Jul 25, 2013, 7:48 AM
After thinking I was finally getting somewhere with Spanish, it was pretty depressing. Like I said, "Ugh."
Is this goal simply unrealistic? Is it futile? If not, do any of you who have worked to become fluent in Spanish have any insights that might help me at my stage? What do you feel helped you most?
What you're going through is very common.
Here's the typical scenario: A person moves here and decides to ''learn'' Spanish. They hire a tutor for an hour a week and maybe do an hour of homework a week. The real motivated ones will do maybe 3 or 4 hours of self-study. They spend one or two or even three years diligently trying to improve, and then realize after three years they can't really even hold a meaningful social conversation at a party in the local language. At this point, most will just pretty much give up, and that's it. I've seen it a hundred times.
But think for a minute what we are talking about here. The diligent person (the one who puts in 5 hours a week), has only spent roughly 750 or so hours being exposed to Spanish after 3 years (if they are the typical retiree and watch TV in English, hang around with English speaking friends, etc...). Let's contrast that with the kid who comes with their parents from NOB, goes to school, and hangs out with Mexican children his own age. The child will have about 10,000 hours of exposure after 3 years. And people marvel at the kid's ability to learn Spanish ''so quickly''. Well, it's pretty obvious, given that the child has a more facile mind, and about 9,000 hours more exposure!
Most people who move here think you can ''learn'' a language. This is just not true. In the beginning stages, maybe yes. But after that you ''absorb'' the language, you don't ''learn'' it. Most of it is going on at the subconscious level. Like Esperanza said, one day she just ''got it'', in regards to the subjunctive. That came from repeated exposure and time. And sadly, most expats seriously underestimate the time needed to become proficient in the language (unless you're a language genius, which I am not).
Try an experiment if you are able. For the next year, do as the hypothetical child does and try to get about 10 hours a day of exposure, whether it be reading, watching TV, listening to music, talking with your neighbors etc. Then come back here one year from today and tell us how much of your friends' conversation you are understanding. I think you'll be shocked.