My Annual Language Challenge

It has been an ambition of mine for many years to learn a new language. I currently speak Gaeilge and English fluently, and I learned some very basic French during my time in secondary school. I can just about hold a very simple, practical conversation in French. After 6 years of learning French, this disappoints me. It would be very easy for me to lay blame everywhere and anywhere other than at myself, but that wouldn’t be productive. Anyway, that’s not what this blog post is about. After much reading online about learning languages, I have decided to learn a new language every year (for the next few years anyway).

I have decided to begin by learning Spanish because I love how it sounds. My goal is to spend at least 30 minutes a day engaging with a language learning activity and to be able to hold a normal conversation in Spanish at the end of 3 months. I have made a few attempts in the past with Spanish, but due to lack of engagement or lack of motivation, I have never progressed beyond some basics.

My plan is to use what is currently available to me. About 5 years ago, I purchased all 5 levels of the Rosetta Stone language learning programme (for a considerable price) and as mentioned previously, I started with the basics of it but didn’t take it any further. I will return to this programme and I will commit to sticking with it and seeing it through. I’m also using the Duolingo app as well as listening to podcasts from SpanishPod101.com in an effort to learn the language on the go, or while just relaxing on the couch. Finally, but most importantly, I plan to engage in a language exchange with a native speaker. In today’s connected world, this will be relatively easy to do, and I will be availing of the HelloTalk app to assist me with this. I’ll also seek out conversation groups in my local libraries. This element of langauge learning should never be overlooked due to the fact that a language is useless in isolation! I can study it all I want, but if I never use it for a real purpose, my goal will be doomed to failure.

The only real issue I have with Duolingo and SpanishPod101 is that they are translation-based. This is more of a failing for Duolingo as it is an audio-visual app and could have easily avoided it during the design process, but is less avoidable for SpanishPod101 as it is purely audio-based and meaning must be made somehow.

The reason I think that Rosetta Stone will be my best language-learning experience (outside of actual real conversation) is that there is no translation – it is all done in the target language with visual and audio aids. It also comes with a handy USB headset which can be used to input your own speech so that pronunciation is analysed and either accepted or rejected from the point of view of being allowed to progress.

Based on the advice of Benny Lewis, I have decided to be as public as I can be about my language learning – it’ll be a lot more difficult to make excuses to give up on it if I tell everyone about it!

As a positive side-effect to learning a new language, I will be firmly in the shoes of the learner, which will give me a richer insight into what it can be like for children to learn a language – specifically the difficulties, frustrations and challenges they face. As a primary school teacher, this sort of insight will be of great benefit to my approach to children as they learn Irish, as well as to children whose first language is not English.

I will revisit this topic in one month with an update on my progress! If anyone knows of any useful (and free) Spanish language-learning aids, please share by leaving a comment and let me know.

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