I’m back again to share more of my experiences with you all. After my success with The Mimic Method’s German Elemental Sounds course, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and learn a completely new language: Spanish.
I had little to no exposure to the Spanish sounds before I started (minus a few songs) so I was starting from scratch in a way that I hadn’t with German.
Why choose the course… again?
I had always wanted to study Spanish. It’s one of the most spoken languages in the world, and now I had the perfect excuse!
As an early adopter of the Elemental Sounds courses I received a two-week trial with Baselang. Baselang is a website offering unlimited Spanish tutoring for a monthly subscription.
I wanted to be able to get the most out of my one to one tutoring, so it was time to get working on the foundation with The Mimic Method course!
This wasn’t my first rodeo, so I was quite familiar with the layout of the course. Each language only has a set number of sounds you will hear, which Idahosa has put in small groups. Each group is then accompanied with a detailed video explaining how to produce them. Simple and effective.
I was very eager to get started and ended up watching watched all the videos in one afternoon.. !
As I had already learnt good tongue control from the previous course I could skip that stage this time. This helped me save time and power through all the videos in a single sitting.
My main focus at this early stage was to drill the sounds themselves. Only with lots of repetition and exposure would I be able to recognise them and move on to replicating them. I saved the audio files on my phone and listened to them whenever I had a spare five minutes. Sitting eating lunch, cooking dinner or even in the shower. Any free time became Spanish time, and it quickly built up.
The speed I moved through the course was significantly quicker than I had expected.
The main reason for this was due to the similarity to German. Many of the sounds were identical, or very close, which meant that only a little fine tuning was required.
All that time spent mumbling to myself in German was also beneficial to learning Spanish. Who would’ve thought it?
That isn’t to say it was all smooth sailing. The similarity was a great help but also the biggest hindrance I had to overcome. Some sounds were so close that it became quite difficult to train myself to recognise them.
My ear, and tongue, only wanted to hear the German sounds I had spent weeks practicing. Worry not my friends, as with any problem, there is always a solution.
I overcame this particular hurdle by focusing on these sounds within words. Hearing them in combination with sounds I was comfortable with made the differences a lot clearer. After a few days of repeating the words over and over I managed to crack them. Success!
With all the other sounds bested there was only one mountain left to climb… the trills!
Anyone that has tried to learn Spanish (or Italian for that matter) will have hit the trilling wall. The unbearable feeling of frustration when you can’t make the sound no matter how hard you try. I have learned Italian for 5 years and still never perfected this particular sound! It is a very tricky customer indeed.
The most frustrating part of learning the trill was my lovely fiancèe. One night, after a week of failed attempts, I tried to explain the issue I was having.
In response, she produced the trill on her first attempt! Needless to say… I was not amused!
Then, every time she heard me trying she would trill perfectly in the background. In a way it helped, as it motivated me to want to be as good as her. After all, languages are kinda my thing. I decided to take this a personal challenge.
I found the explanations about how to break down the trill invaluable.
The idea of tackling it in stages was the perfect remedy for me. I quickly mastered the tap (or shortened trill) which is only one step from the perfect trill…. amazing progress!
I also felt a lot more reassured with my struggles when Idahosa explained how it took him years to master. It’s always nice to hear that even an expert like Idahosa has the same problems as the rest of us (time and practice being the only real solution).
From Sounds to Words
With all the sounds under my belt, except the elusive trill, I moved onto the next stage in my training; words. I made a reference chart in my language journal of all the sounds and their IPA.
I made a reference chart in my language journal of all the sounds and their IPA. Then I started to practice the frequency word lists. Listen, transcribe, check and adjust… the process I knew very well from the German course.
After my first few attempts, I was very pleased, and a little surprised, with the results. I was making significantly less mistakes than before with my German course.
But how? Before taking the German course I’d had a lot more practice listening to German. Hours of music, a week of speaking German in Bavaria and talking to my German friend on Skype.
I hadn’t had any of this in Spanish. And yet, I was actually performing better in a language I had never spoken before.
I didn’t know any of the meanings but I could hear the words, and that was something I’d never experienced before. Clearly, starting a new language with the correct techniques helped boost my progress. As I wasn’t trying to correct bad habits I had picked up, it was much easier to learn.
My First Conversations
Now I felt confident with all the sounds, and recognizing words, it was time to start my tutoring trial. In those two short weeks I had 20 hours of conversations. This was more speaking practice than I had in any language ever learned before.
I was absolutely astounded by the results!
If you have seen my previous post you will know that speaking has always been my weakest skill when learning a new language. This is why I chose The Mimic Method course in the first place. I always struggled to understand what was being said and respond. My confidence when speaking was almost non-existent.
This time I had none of these issues, I was a changed man.
After a very short period of time, even with my limited vocabulary, I was able to have flowing conversations…. completely in Spanish! Something I could have never predicted and still can’t quite believe it. I remembered the vocabulary and phrases much easier and got compliments on my accent; bonus! The tutors even questioned how long I had been learning Spanish.
They couldn’t believe it when I said days and not months or years.
So as you can imagine, I am very proud of myself. Shifting my approach to focus on speaking and listening produced some fantastic results. In the past, I knew lots of words on paper but could never remember them in a conversation. Now, I have the opposite problem. I can spend an hour talking about how much I love Game of Thrones (as I did in one lesson), but have no idea how to write it down. As my goal is to reach conversational fluency, not having the writing skills to match isn’t actually a problem for me. This can also easily be remedied with a little online research.
As part of this new approach, I tried to learn new words without relying on the written word, or worse…. English! I would simply ask ¿Cómo se dice …? (How do you say…?) and then drop the new word or phrase into the sentence I was trying to use. Learning on the go without disrupting the flow of the conversation. It only sounds like a small change but it had a massive impact on the quality of the conversations I was having. We could continue our discussion point without having to look up words or switch languages. Very useful.
Although the Elemental Sounds course is complete, my journey isn’t over yet! I am now teaching myself to sing en Español.
Stay tuned for my next post about how I am getting on.