Once upon a time, I went to school. During each of my last 7 full years of school, I studied Spanish. By the time I graduated high school, I was able to hold a conversation in Spanish, write about most subjects in Spanish, and even think in Spanish. Some say that you need to think in a language to be fluent in it. I was not a fluent Spanish speaker, but I was getting there. And then I stopped.
For the next 15 years, I did little more with my Spanish than sing along to the opening song of Desperado. It’s a hell of an opening number, but it doesn’t exactly cover the entire language. So, what’s a gringo to do?
Well, in 2012, I lived in Costa Rica for a few months. I watched TV and movies in Spanish, shopped for groceries with labels in Spanish, and gave taxi directions in Spanish. I also tried reading El Hobbit, with some degree of success. All of that, along with some work with a dictionary and Google Translate, helped bring my Spanish vocabulary out of the recesses of my brain.
I got a lot better at the language, but after a few months, I moved on to Montreal, where I learned several French words. I didn’t exactly keep up with my Spanish. But in 2013, I moved to a small city in New Jersey that is about 85% Spanish-speaking. The trouble is that almost everyone who works in the neighborhood (i.e. folks with whom I interact on a regular basis) also speaks some English, and defaults to that when they see me.
I have managed to practice a little speaking, and I overhear lots of conversations that I can half-translate. All of the city-related mail comes in both languages, giving me another opportunity to practice and learn. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I started studying in an organized fashion.
I started using duolingo.com, a site that turns language learning into a game. I like games. I set a daily goal of 50 XP, which means doing 5 of their little modules. That’s their highest setting, 50 XP, which they refer to as “insane.” Maybe it is an insane daily goal. I don’t know. All I know is that I grinded out 1220 XP yesterday. So yeah, like I said in the title, it’s a new obsession.
I’m going to play some live poker today, and I’ll try to practice my Spanish while I do that. I’ve also downloaded some beisbol podcasts, so I can improve my ability to talk about sports in another language. That’s probably a good way to be able to engage strangers in conversation.
I’ll also keep listening to “Cancion del Mariachi,” because who doesn’t want to hit a guy in the face with a guitar every now and then?