How I'm learning Spanish and German
After finishing my studies in France, I wanted to enjoy the possibility of traveling and working in 26 countries without passport or laborious paperwork. The aerospace industry in France is also very international, and I consider it an asset to have lived in different countries and be able to speak various languages.
For these reasons, I searched outside France for my first job, and was able to get a job in Madrid, Spain. I worked there two years, learning Spanish at the same time. Even if I don’t speak fluently, I am now able to have a basic conversation on any subject, understanding others and expressing my thoughts. I recently moved to Berlin, Germany, and I, obviously, plan to learn German.
In this article, I would like to share how I learned Spanish, and reflect on what I plan to amend to learn German more efficiently. Everybody is different, so these tips might not work for you. But if at least one person finds one advice useful, I will consider this article worth it.
2019-2020: El éxito Español
I moved to Madrid in early 2019 with (among other things) a plan to learn Spanish.
I joined a Spanish company, but I knew that English is widely used in the aerospace industry, and that I would not speak so much Spanish. That would only left me with lunches and breaks to speak Spanish. Better than nothing, but not ideal to quickly learn a language.
What worked very well
I quickly started using the mobile app Duolingo.
This app focuses on translating sentences, teaching both grammar and vocabulary.
It is highly gamified, with a ranking against other
This works stunningly well: several times, I found myself at 11 pm on a Sunday evening trying to earn a few more points to move up one place before the weekly ranking expired.
The streak counter also encourages you to do at least one lesson every day, eventhough you can get away with one missed day each week.
I rarely missed a day, probably once every few month.
I studied on Duolingo around 30 mn per day, in the public transports.
I finished the whole Spanish course in around a year and a half, but continued afterwards by redoing old courses, albeit dedicating a bit less time.
In parallel, I tried a few other apps, but I only sticked with Drops. Drops focuses entirely on vocabulary, with a method based on spaced repetition. I studied on Drops 10 mn per day. Learning ~7 words per day, I finished the 2000 words database in around 9 months. This app is great to quickly learn a lot of very diverse vocabulary.
What worked well
Work and shared flat
Although the official language in the aerospace industry in Europe is English, I was still working with Spanish-speaking colleagues. During the lunch and breaks, Spanish was more natural and I was able to quickly get up to speed.
I lived in a shared flat, with two Spanish-speaking roommates. Again, they spoke English, but Spanish was a bit more natural and I was able to practice without (work) pressure.
I had around 1h30 per day of public transport (at least until the pandemic struck and I started working from home), but only did 30+10 mn of focused work. When I did not feel like studying hard, I at least tried to have some Spanish in the background, with podcasts.
I started with Duolingo’s podcast, which gives a smooth start: stories are a mix of English and Spanish, which allows you to understand well what is the context. I then quickly switched to Spanish only and more dense content. Thanks to this twitter thread, I found a few ideas:
According to my podcast player, I have a total listening duration of around 50 hours.
Books and movies
In order to broaden a bit the kind of content I was consuming, I tried a few other types of media:
- Books: La energía nuclear salvará el mundo from Operador nuclear
- Movies/series: La casa de papel, with Spanish subtitles and Google Translate within easy reach
- Twitter: Operador Nuclear and a few other Spanish accounts
What did not worked so well
Intercambio de idiomas is Spanish for language exchange. These events gather people who want to practice languages, mostly Spanish (for foreigners) and English (for locals). A few other languages are often present (for ex, French. At first I was a bit surprised, but it actually makes sense, because French is spoken in many countries).
I think this can have a huge potential, but after a few events it can become a bit boring to always introduce yourself to new people. You sometimes see the same persons though, in which case it gets interesting, as you can get a bit deeper in the conversation.
If you are interested, you can find many of these events on Facebook and Meetup.
I tried to find some Spanish-speaking channels to watch. Sadly, I only fond one and it was not so interesting and I did not stick to it. This can probably have some potential, if one finds stimulating content.
2021+: Pläne für Deutsch
To learn German, I plan to reiterate my Spanish experience, with some small modifications.
Will absolutely do
I will continue to use Duolingo and Drops. This proved to be the most efficient way I learned Spanish.
Nonetheless, I will try to add Anki, which is a spaced repetition based app, where you can create your own lessons. I found that I lacked a way to do spaced repetition with a shortened list of the most useful words and grammar rules. Drops often include words that you use very rarely, adding clutter and distraction. I will also need to learn the grammar, which is a bit more complicated and less similar to French.
Will try do do
Although Duolingo is a great way to get started, its limits are quickly reached and a complement is needed to continue to progress.
I will try to participate extensively in Sprachaustausch1 and Meetups: speaking is important and was what I lacked the most for Spanish.
I will also try to use books and movies a bit more: they offer variety and train different skills. Books encourage slowness and focused learning, while movies are more fun (unless I need to pause every few seconds to translate something!).
Need to investigate
I will try to listen to podcasts, as it helps learning to understand others, and can be done while doing other activities. But I have not yet found any German podcasts, so I will need to spend some time finding good ones. Do you know any good German podcasts? Please send them to me.
Another random idea I got: translate music lyrics. It can be fun, and I might even learn a few words, although most of the time lyrics don’t make any sense.
I tried to summarize in the following table the different ways to learn and organize them in the four (five?) basic language skills, giving a good overview:
|(Vocabulary)||(Drops, Anki, Duolingo, books)|
|Listening||Podcasts, music (translation), movies/Youtube, intercambios, work, shared flat, friends|
|Speaking||Intercambios, work, shared flat, friends|
|Reading||Duolingo, books, movies (subtitles!)|
To learning German, I will try to focus on 1) vocabulary (which is quite easy, with some perseverance2) and 2) speaking (which is a bit more complicated as it requires another human being to cooperate).
Routines (20 mn of German each morning and evening in the public transports) and gamified apps (such as Duolingo) works very well. Of course, speaking fluently and without mistakes takes years, but it is possible to reach a decent level relatively quickly. The human brain is fascinating!
Next language after German: Italian?! (if I want to be astronaut, Chinese might be a better bet, though)
Bonus: vocabulary size test: es / de. It is not perfectly reliable, but can give an idea and help track progress every few months: I am currently at around 20k word in English (after ~1 decade), 10k in Spanish (after ~2 years) and 4k in German (after ~2 months).