Brandon Rozek

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PhD Student @ RPI studying Automated Reasoning in AI and Linux Enthusiast.

Learning a new language

Published on

2 minute reading time

Last year I travelled to Italy for a conference. Right before the trip, I did what every great tourist does and tried to learn some Italian phrases.

This experience inspired me to work towards learning more Spanish again. My ancestry is one reason, though another strong reason is that Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the United States.

As a child, I learned a mix of Spanish, French, and German in school. Sadly like many Americans, I did not retain much of what I learned. This is mostly because there aren’t many opportunities for me to use these languages from day-to-day. Everyone I interact with speaks English and many don’t know the three languages I was taught.

Given that there’s some level of upkeep for retaining a language. It doesn’t make sense for me to diversify and try to learn multiple languages. My hope is that by focusing on Spanish, I can at least get to a level where I can hold a simple conversation confidently.

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages provides a list of levels which mark a learner’s proficiency in a language. Roughly speaking, A is a basic user, B is an independent user, and C is a proficient user.

When most people learn a language, they strive to be fluent. They want to hit the C2 level of proficiency. I find this to be a somewhat unrealistic goal for myself as someone who doesn’t interact much with Spanish speakers.

For one, C2 proficiency requires advance analysis on field specific issues. I’m not currently looking to perform academic research in Spanish. Instead, I wish to be able to hold simple conversations with other Spanish speakers.

To help me on this journey, I took the mainstream route and downloaded Duolingo. There’s a lot of criticism online about the app’s focus on spaced repetition and psychological tactics it uses to pressure users to log on everyday.

I think, however, that it’s important to find what works for you. I found it easy to use the app to build a habit of studying Spanish since they create easily digestible lessons.

The app is also not a one-size fits all. I find that the app is a little slow in exposing the learner to new vocabulary. The reading and radio exercises are also not as challenging as watching a TV show or reading a book in Spanish.

What I should really be doing, is watching telenovelas.

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