A couple of years ago, I decided to get serious about learning Spanish. Mostly, I wanted this skill for travel, whether to Spanish-speaking countries or areas of the US with a larger Spanish-speaking population than Vermont. But I didn’t want to take a class; I wanted to learn on my own time, when I could squeeze it into my schedule (the same way I do weight training). Rosetta Stone was way too expensive, so I bought the SPANISH in 10 minutes a day® AUDIO CD by Kristine K. Kershul. The theory behind it is that you can learn Spanish just by spending 10 minutes a day on the process. This appealed to me, since I’m pretty busy as it is, and wasn’t sure how much time I could devote to it.
It’s a great system, in my opinion, because it offers tools for different types of learners. The kit comes with 6 audio CDs, a workbook, sticky labels you apply to various objects around your house, flash cards, a pronunciation guide, and a “cheat sheet” featuring restaurant terms you can carry with you to a restaurant. So how’s it working for me? Let’s just say I’m having mixed results.
I listen to the CDs in the car on the way to and from work. That’s about 20 minutes a day, actually. The sticky labels were very useful at first in helping me remember the Spanish words for things around my house (rooms, furniture, curtains, windows, etc.), but after awhile, the stickiness wore off and they started to fall off everything. I’d come home and find sticky labels littering the floor like dead moths.
For awhile, I replaced them with Post-It notes, but it became a little embarrassing every time visitors came to my home to have to explain why I had post-it notes on everything. The flash cards are very helpful in drumming into my head the words I’m having the most trouble with (like verbs). And the workbook helps me get the spelling straight. One limitation of the CDs is that some of the speakers pronounce “v” as “b” and vice versa; so it’s nice to refer to the workbook to see how a word is actually spelled.
So why isn’t this system working for me? Several reasons.
1. I think pretending that I can learn a foreign language by only spending 10 minutes a day on it is a bit unrealistic. For me, anyway, it requires more time and focus.
2. Lack of motivation. After using it for 6 months, I was looking forward to testing out my limited Spanish on my trip to Puerto Rico last year, but almost everyone I encountered there spoke perfect English, so there was no need. When I returned from Puerto Rico, I had no other trips to Spanish-speaking countries on the horizon. So my motivation waned, and I stopped listening to the CDs in the car on the way to and from work. I packed away the workbook and flashcards one day while I was housecleaning, and they never got unpacked again. I forgot about it.
3. If you don’t use it, you lose it. I took five years of German in high school and college. And yet by no stretch of the imagination am I fluent in German today. Why not? I’ve had no opportunities to use it since then. Same is true with Spanish. Now that I’m planning a trip to Spain, I’ve launched back into my studies, but it was almost like starting over from scratch. I’d forgotten so much in the last year.
One argument in favor of taking a class or joining a Spanish language club is the opportunity to practice on a regular basis with other human beings. I’m also thinking immersion studies would have the desired effect. In any case, I am trying my darnedest–with the limited time that I have–to learn as much as I can before my trip to Spain in May. I desperately want to be better equipped to communicate with the locals than I was when I went to Paris.
Have you had trouble learning a foreign language, even when you’ve put a lot of time into it? What ultimately worked for you?