March Recap/April Goal-Setting

Goodbye, March… Hello, April!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged in here. With two months left in the school year, things have been super hectic and I guess I should have predicted that. TELPAS testing, the state assessment I played a big role in executing at my campus, is officially over. I’m hoping with one less responsibility, I can dedicate more time to blogging during the month of April. I might have been too ambitious last month.

With that said, let’s take a look at the goals set in March:

1. Work on the landscaping around my house – Check. Justin and I planted corn, squash, cucumber, and green beans, and they are really taking off! I also replaced the mulch in our front and back yards.

2. Continue improving my Spanish language skills by dedicating at least six hours a week to language learning – Check. I slacked off near the end of March, but overall my studying has remained fairly consistent.

3. Work out at least 4x a week. Fail… huge, epic fail!

4. Write 8 blog posts –Another fail… not even close!

5. Plan for summer travels. Unfortunately, we found out during Spring Break that one of our furbabies, Theon, is positive for heartworms. We adopted him during Thanksgiving break, and at the time, he tested negative. The veterinarian informed us, however, that simply because an animal tests negative doesn’t mean they don’t have larvae in their system. We made the mistake of not putting him on heartworm prevention as soon as we adopted him, but… lesson learned. We are undergoing expensive treatment for him, which may prevent us from traveling during the summer.


And now, for April goal setting:

1. Write 4 blog posts – I think this is a realistic goal. I set my goal too high last month and wasn’t able to keep up, but I think 1 post per week is totally doable and may even be exceeded this month if I am smart with my free time. 🙂

2. Continue improving my Spanish – 6 hours/week is what I shoot for, but if I am over or under that,  it’s fine. The key is to remain consistent until I have more dedicated free time over the summer.

3. Limit eating out to once per week or less – I am trying to be more conscious of how much we eat out. It’s hard to tell what you’re putting in your body and the costs add up over time.

4. Work out 3x per week – I set the goal of 4x per week last month and failed miserably. 3x a week is more realistic and not restricted to just gym work outs. This includes landscaping, dog runs, etc.

What’s on your goal list for this month?

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Hello, AT&T… Goodbye, Sprint!

Hola y buenos tardes, mis amigos– spring break has finally arrived! I can’t believe it’s already Tuesday and I am so overdue for a post. So much for March goal-setting, right? Hah! Just kidding. I’m definitely killing it on a couple goals but seriously slacking in others. Spring break is still young!

Here’s what I have been up to lately, in list format:

  1. Celebrated Justin’s Birthday! Yesterday, he turned 35 and we traded in his iPhone 4S for a beautiful iPhone 7. I can hardly believe that 4S lasted him as long as it did, without even a screen cracking. That phone was nearly as old as our relationship!

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I also got a new phone and officially switched over cell phone carriers. I had been a long-time customer of Spring and their service just wasn’t making the cut anymore.

2. Practiced plenty of Spanish. This weekend I downloaded the 3rd grade Spanish STAAR test for reading. For those of you not in Texas, STAAR is the official state assessment here. Reading the different kinds of passages (informational, fiction, poetry, etc) and answering the accompanying questions was a great comprehension exercise. I plan to complete the rest of the 3rd grade tests, then work my way up to 4th and 5th grade.

3. Deep cleaned the house. Bathrooms, living room, kitchen, master bedroom, etc… now I need to work on the mess that is my make-up desk:

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4. Played with my doggies, Sansa and Theon. They have been loving this spring break most of all. Plenty of time to run, play, and cuddle with these two furbabies!

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Later today I am off for my first language exchange date with a Mexican woman I met through Houston Language Exchange. I plan to work with her on her English in exchange for her helping me wish Spanish… wish me luck!

Besos,

Eva

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March Goals / February Revisited

Ah, hello March! It’s hard to believe Spring is practically here. This school year has been passing quickly. February came and went in a blink of an eye. So, how did I do with my goals for the month of February?

1. Complete my first course for principal certification with an A – Check! I’m officially six weeks into my program at this point.

2. Rollover my retirement savings into a traditional IRA – Check – sort of! I definitely got the ball rolling, and it’s about 90% taken care of.

3. Post at least twice a week and grow this blog – Epic fail, but my expectations were not very realistic in the first pace. For March, I will set monthly goals instead of focusing on weekly ones.

4. Dedicate at least six hours a week to language learning – Check!


Well, we live and learn, right? Here go my goals for the month of March!

1. Work on the landscaping around my house – Spring is almost here, which calls for plenty of outdoor plant maintenance! Last Spring we planted many tropical plants in our back yard, and the year before that, we completely revamped our front garden beds. I’m looking to improve on what we already have and add some more awesome plants over Spring Break!

2. Continue improving my Spanish language skills by dedicating at least six hours a week to language learning – I’ve completed the Duolingo Tree, so I’m continuing to use the “Practice” function for additional practice. This month I want to finish the Destinos series, and get some talking practice in through Italki.com

3. Work out at least 4x a week. This used to be so easy for me, but with so many commitments, exercise has truly taken a backseat. Well, not any more… this is a healthy lifestyle blog, for crying out loud. I should be setting a better example!

4. Write 8 blog posts – Instead of setting a goal of posting twice a week, I’m going to set the goal of at least 8 posts for the month of March. That seems much more doable with Spring Break coming up, and some weeks being busier than others.

5. Plan for summer travels. Justin (my husband and I) are undecided on exactly how much traveling we will be doing over the summer, due to our graduate school schedules and the demands of keeping up with our house. At the very least, I would like to spend 1-2 weeks in Mexico participating in a language immersion program. If we can make it to a couple camping trips in some National Parks, that would be even better, but who knows? It is going to be a busy summer.


Wish me luck with these! What are your goals for March?

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10 Free or Low Cost Ways to Create Language Immersion at Home

¡Buenos días a todos!

When we hear the words “language immersion,” we typically think of living in a foreign country for a period of time and being completely surrounded with the target language one is trying to learn. Over the past 2 months, however, I’ve made giant strides in my Spanish listening and speaking capabilities, without ever setting foot in a Spanish-speaking country! 

Thankfully, gaining conversational fluency doesn’t require extensive travel or a lot of money. The suggestions I’m listing below can apply to any language, although all of my language-learning experiences at the moment involve Spanish.

1. Label household items in target language

This was one of the first things I did when I started getting aggressive with my Spanish learning goals two months ago. I even made big anchor charts to hang up in my living room, so I would be able to conjugate verbs on the fly. It’s important to not only label these every day items, but to be cognizant of actually using these words when you speak… even if it’s something as simple as, “Quiero un cafe” or “Dame mi bolsa”

2. Build a strong foundation through free apps

Two words: Duolingo and Memrise. Memrise is a bit slow and focuses more on memorizing individual words or phrases, while Duolingo follows a series of lessons that are strategically designed to build your foundation. It is an AWESOME app and one of the best resources you will find for free!

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3. Change your phone settings to target language

While it can sometimes be frustrating to get a notification you don’t totally understand, it has forced me to get more familiar with certain words. This setting also puts my Google Maps directions into Spanish, and will automatically translate people’s posts from Instagram and Facebook into Spanish. Like most people, I use my phone a lot, so I am constantly learning Spanish this way.

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4. Listen to free podcasts while working out or driving to work

I recently discovered Coffee Break Spanish through Spotify, and I love it! The episodes feature Mark, an experienced language teacher, and Kara, his student. The podcast is recorded in Scotland, but Mark’s Castillian Spanish accent sounds very authentic. Each episode is about 20 minutes long and very easy to follow along with during your commute to and from work, or during exercise!

5. Speak to native speakers

I’m fortunate to work very closely with three lovely native Spanish speakers. I attempt to speak to them and ask them to correct my grammar when I say something incorrectly. I ask a lot of questions and actively listen when they converse with each other.

However, a lot of people trying to learn a language do not have that same advantage. If you are one of these people, I highly recommend you check out Italki. You can pair yourself up with a language partner for a free language exchange. You would help them out with their English while they help you out with your target language. Another feature I will soon try out is the private tutor feature… it’s not free, but the first three lessons come at a significant discount. Even at full price, the half hour and hour long lessons are reasonably priced and completely catered to your level of proficiency.

 

6.Watch a TV show and/or news every day

Remember watching Destinos during your high school or college Spanish courses? I do. I recently started watching these again with a more critical ear, and it really helps you get better adapted to understanding spoken Spanish. The language is pretty basic and best for beginners.

A woman who works as a Spanish interpreter at my school gave me this piece of advice: “Watch a telenovela and a news broadcast every day! Telenovelas (soap operas) will teach you conversational Spanish and the news will teach you more educated Spanish.”

7. MUSICA, MUSICA, MUSICA

I wrote about this earlier this month because it is undoubtedly my favorite way to learn Spanish. As I become better versed in the different genres of Spanish music, I become increasingly passionate about the language. To be honest, I can’t even remember the last time I listened to music in English for longer than 10 minutes or so! I actually prefer Spanish music now. Mariachi, bolero, salsa, traditional rock, even bachata… I’ve been listening to all of it and completing lyric studies with every song.

8. Read in target language everyday

Books, news articles, blogs… there is no shortage of free material online or in your public library. I purchased a slew of children’s books through Amazon earlier this month, but I also try to read from Ventimundos and El Pais as often as I can. Pretty soon I hope to graduate to novels for more extended reading.

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9. Seek out restaurants and stores of that language

For Spanish this is easy– just go to an authentic Mexican (or Colombian, Salvadorian, etc) restaurant and start speaking! “Estamos lista para pedir” – “We are ready to order,” etc. Even if I butcher a sentence, the person I’m speaking to understands what I’m trying to say… waiting until you have perfect grammar before you speak is the biggest mistake most people make when learning a language. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to try to speak first and the correct grammar will come in time.

As I said before, this doesn’t just apply to Spanish. If you’re trying to learn French, German, Mandarin Chinese… there are restaurants and businesses out there chock full of Native speakers. Tons of potential for you to converse.

10. Keep a journal in target language

Translating from Spanish to English is significantly easier than translating English into Spanish. Keeping a journal completely in Spanish is hard and something I’m still not doing 100% consistently, but when I do it, I always see the benefit. If you’re a beginner, your journal entry for the day could be just a simple list of things to do:

Wash the clothes – lava la ropa

Clean the kitchen – limpia la cocina

Walk the dogs – caminar con los perros

You get the idea!

One word of caution about these suggestions: while I have found all of these to be effective, what you get out of language learning has everything to do with what you put in. Everything requires work on your part, and the will to learn and improve! Passively listening to podcasts, music, or TV shows will not do much for you. I’ve been working diligently for the past two months, but I’m still no where near fluency. With more time and hard work, though, I will get there– and so can you!

Con amor y amistad,

Eva

Immersion

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February Goals Update and Progress

I hope every one had a great Valentine’s Day this past week! Ours was pretty low-key, since every day is Valentine’s Day at the Love Nest. It’s hard to believe we only have 9 days left in February!

Unfortunately, I’m already not doing too well on two of my February goals. One of the goals was to post twice a week (epic fail for this past week– I didn’t even get to 1 post!) and the other was to get started on rolling over my old 403b from my first job to a traditional IRA (another epic fail– I haven’t even gotten the ball rolling).

On a positive note, I am making progress with my 6-hour weekly Spanish learning commitment, yesterday I watched about 12 episodes of Destinos, and I went back on Duolingo and practiced on some of my weaker skills throughout the week. I’m also poised to complete my first principal certification course with an A. So far, I’m making good on 50% of my goals for this month.

But 50% is not 100%, and when I set a goal, I aim to achieve it… especially since I openly shared these goals on my blog. 0 blog posts last week mean that I’m on the hook for more posts this week.

This month has been a complete whirlwind. With testing season upon us in the public school world, my duties at work have completely dominated my life. I coordinate placement and testing decisions for all ESL students at my campus (and we have the highest number in the district), which means this is an extremely hectic time of year– and it doesn’t help that this is my first year in this job! March will only become busier.

I could go on and on about how busy and stressful work is, but that doesn’t change anything. I set goals earlier this month, and damn it, I’m going to achieve them! More on this at the end of the month.

Love,
Eva

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February: Goal-Setting

February so far has been absolutely nuts for me. I know it makes much more sense to make a goal-setting post at the beginning of the month, instead of 10 days into it, but what can I say? This idea presented itself to me a couple days ago, and I’m just now able to write about it. I’m sick at home with what might actually be the beginnings of a flu… fingers crossed that it is not!

I’ve always been big on lists and goal-setting. It keeps me organized and gives me a clear vision on how to properly allocate my time and energy. It was creating lists of goals that allowed me to graduate college with honors a year early, earn scholarships to pay for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, pay for our wedding, down payment on our house, lose 40 lbs, etc. Goal setting = good. So here are my goals for the rest of this month:

1. Complete my first course for principal certification with an A – I’m at the tail end of my first course for my administrative certification program. So far, I have an A, but there is a lot that still needs to be completed and graded. This program is way more demanding than I initially gave it credit for.

2. Rollover my retirement savings into a traditional IRA – Several years ago, I opened up a retirement account with my first school district. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I figured at some point I would need to save for retirement. Going with this particular type of investment strategy and company ended up being a mistake, so I’m finally trying to get the ball rolling on putting this money into an IRA without all the ridiculous fees I was paying before!

3. Post at least twice a week and grow this blog – With so much going on, it’s easy to ignore this blog. I’m going to make every effort to not let that happen. I enjoy blogging and meeting new people/blogs on WordPress; it’s fun and relaxing. I’m interested in learning from more seasoned bloggers how to improve this one.

4. Dedicate at least six hours a week to language learning – I’ve written about my quest to improve my Spanish twice in this blog so far. Six hours a week is much more realistic than 1 hour a day, since my schedule doesn’t always allow that kind of time for explicit language learning. Typically I use the weekend as my catch-up time!


Those are some pretty big goals for the next 17.5 days, so I’m going to leave it at that. I will follow up on this blog at the end of the month to check my progress and set new goals for March!

Love,

Eva

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A Fun Way to Learn Another Language / Una divertida manera de aprender otro idioma

In January, I wrote here about finally buckling down and increasing my Spanish proficiency for personal and professional reasons. My dad is a native Spanish speaker and my mom quickly picked up the language when they were married in the 1970s. Growing up in South Texas, I picked up a few phrases and important words, but the language simply wasn’t spoken very much at home… so I became resigned about being able to ever learn Spanish. About 80% of the country only speaks one language, and for most of my life, I was okay with being part of that majority.

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Mis padres (en el centro) en su dia de boda

Until now. The truth is, that it’s never too late to learn a second language. Kids do pick up languages faster than adults, but a big reason for this is that kids learn by babbling and speaking with whatever words they know. Adults obsess over correct verb conjugations and grammar rules in the target language, so it takes much longer for them to get comfortable with speaking.

I practice daily in different ways, but the most fun way is by listening and studying MUSIC! I complete lyric studies of my favorite Spanish songs — songs that I don’t mind listening to over and over — by studying the Spanish words and translating them into English.

Mira esto:

 

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La Tortura – This one took a while, because it’s super fast!

 

 

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Tu, by Shakira. This song is perfect for beginners!

 

Spanish movies and shows are great, but I find studying music so much more enjoyable. As an added bonus, it’s slower and easier to listen for individual parts than the rapid spoken Spanish on TV. I created a Spanish playlist in Spotify that I use with these lyrics studies. Right now I am listening to:

  1. A lot of Jarabe de Palo
  2. Shakira – though a lot of her music is pretty fast
  3. Selena, because, why not? She is the Queen of Tejano.

It’s also important to mention that I don’t just listen to these songs. Once I’ve heard the song once or twice, I sing along. Singing the words makes me feel more comfortable with correct pronunciation and rhythm. Yesterday I was listening to a recommended Spanish playlist on Spotify, and came across this beautiful gem covered from a 1960s love ballad from Argentina. It’s the latest song I’ve studied and sang out loud.

I have a tab dedicated to lyric studies in my Spanish Learning Binder:

 

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Mi Carpeta (binder). It has cheat sheets and sections for verb conjugation practice, reading exercises, etc.

As I dedicate more time and effort to increasing my Spanish proficiency, my vocabulary improves by the day. As vocabulary improves, speaking improves. It’s still a long road to fluency, but practice will help me get there!

Con amor,

 

Eva

 

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Current Status & 5 Key Tips for Sustainable Weight Loss

If you know me or have taken time to read through the few posts on this blog, you’ve probably figured out that losing 40 lbs and keeping it off is one of my proudest accomplishments. People who find out about my transformation always ask, “How did you do it?” as though they expect me to tell them about a secret pill or trick. I explain that I achieved my initial goal of losing 20 lbs through healthy eating and exercise, but that fitness eventually became a passion of mine — a lifestyle change that I have stuck with to this day. I’m writing this blog so I can share some nuggets of wisdom that allowed me to not only lose the weight, but keep it off for several years and counting.

#1: Get out of the “diet” mindset. Weight loss is only sustainable if you stop approaching everything as temporary. Living off a “diet” of broccoli and chicken breast will only last a couple weeks before you are ready to return to your old eating habits. Begin with making small sacrifices you can actually commit to, such as limiting the amount of fast food you eat or giving up sweets or alcohol (which is a killer for your fitness, btw). Once you’re ready for more, draft up a menu that meets your caloric needs (see #4) while still being appetizing to you. Over time, your body will stop craving unhealthy foods.

#2: Accept the reality that weight loss is 80% diet. Sure, there are some people out there who are blessed to eat whatever they want and still lose weight if they exercise. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people… nor is a majority of the population. Stop justifying eating greasy, fatty, sugary foods, or drinking alcohol because “it’s Friday” or “because I deserve it.” It’s okay to have a cheat meal every now and then, but you will never train your body to crave healthy foods if you are constantly justifying reasons to eat unhealthily. Set a goal to have a cheat meal once a week and stick with it.

#3: The type of exercise you do is important. If you are already significantly overweight, cardio + healthy eating will go a LONG way. I lost the first 20 lbs simply by using an elliptical and/or treadmill for about 45 mins each day. Once I reached about 130 lbs, taking off additional fat became a lot harder without sacrificing muscle. Steady state cardio will only take you so far before HIIT (high intensity interval training) becomes necessary. If you are only moderately overweight or just looking to shed a couple pounds of fat, HIIT + weight training will be your best friend. I do not recommend weight training alone if you are significantly overweight, unless you just really enjoy it and are willing to wait longer to see results. In either case, I also recommend finding out your body fat % and writing it down for comparison each month. You can find your approximate body fat percentage by using calipers or by using a body fat monitor.

body fat chartFitness101.com

#4: Track your calories and meal prep! Piggybacking off my comments regarding 80% diet, tracking of calories is a necessary evil in order to create the calorie deficit needed for weight loss. I tracked calories using the free MyFitnessPal app for the first year of my fitness journey, and it truly paid off. If you are unsure how many calories you need to in order to lose weight, see this nifty calorie deficit calculator.

Prepping your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners ahead of time makes it easier to reach your target weight. It’s also less expensive than eating out, so what do you have to lose? Here is an example of what I eat in a day, while in fat-burning/muscle-building mode:

Breakfast: Protein strawberry + banana + spinach smoothie with almond milk – 300 calories, 30g protein

Mid-morning snack: Protein bar(s) – Approximately 200 calories, 10g to 20g protein

Lunch: Salad, sandwich, or burrito bowl – Approximately 500 calories, 20-25g protein

Post-workout: Protein smoothie – 300 calories, 30g protein

Dinner: Crockpot meal with some kind of protein + veggies + complex carbohydrates – 500 calories, 30g protein

Dessert, optional: Greek yogurt with cherries (if I worked out that day) – 150 calories, 20g protein

Approximately 2,000 calories; PROTEIN: 150g

Granted, this diet would be one that I follow if I am trying to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. If I was overweight and had a more significant amount of fat to lose, I’d scale the calories back to 1,500 but aim to consume as much protein as possible. Protein will keep you fuller longer, and prevent any unnecessary muscle loss.

#5. Patience is key. Fitness is a journey, not a destination. – Don’t expect to see results over the course of a day, or even a week. Successfully losing weight is not an easy or quick process, and you must be prepared to endure setbacks and keep pushing. Don’t weigh yourself everyday. Set realistic monthly goals, and reward yourself when you meet them. Never lose sight of the prize! You owe it to yourself to commit to a healthier lifestyle, not a deprivation mindset.

Even today, I am still on my fitness journey. I don’t plan to lose more weight, but I am constantly working to make myself better– whether that is cutting down on my body fat percentage or trying to gain more lean muscle mass. With that said, here are my current stats as of 1/22/17:

Weight: 119 lbs; Body Fat Percentage: 24%; BMI 19.9; Chest: 34 inches; Waist size: 25 inches; Hips: 38 inches

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Because I am a firm believer in goal setting, here are some long-term fitness goals for 2017 given my current fitness level (which is mediocre at best):

  1. Develop quadriceps and calves. The bottom half of my legs are a little too skinny.
  2. Continue to develop upper body strength
  3. 19% Body fat, which leads me to…
  4. Visible abdominal muscles! Not expecting a super ripped six pack or anything, but a nice abdominal outline is attainable with the right diet/exercise plan.

That just about covers all I have for now. For my next post, I will begin posting information for my current exercise routine and meal plan if anyone is interested in keeping up. 🙂 Until next time/hasta luego!

<3

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Hola y Buenos Días, mis amigos!

Day 21 of Learning Spanish / Día 21 de aprender español

Since my last post, I have continued to actively learn Spanish on a daily basis. Even though I am far from fluent, I am already pleasantly surprised by my ability to speak in simple sentences and converse with Spanish speakers (using the term “más despacio, por favor” or “more slowly, please” plenty of times)!

I am dedicating anywhere from 1-3 hours a day to Spanish language learning. That may seem like a lot, but a lot of this time is spent actively speaking and listening to my colleagues who are Native Spanish speakers, as well as the occasional student. Here are the 5 key things I have been doing that is working for me:

  1. Completing 5 mini lessons on Duolingo per day – Duolingo is a free language app that helps you learn a language through various written and spoken exercise in a game-style format. Although it is not a standalone resource, it is perfect for getting quick practice in and memorizing high-frequency words.
  2. Reading and completing Spanish exercises via books – Yesterday I finally managed to finish Easy Spanish Step-by-Step by Barbara Bergstein. I purchased it off of Amazon for about $12 back in November, and it took me about a month to make it through all of the exercises. It is an excellent resource and really lays out all of the basic grammar rules. Today I will get started on the Advanced Spanish Step-by-Step… hopefully I’m ready!

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3. Listening to A LOT of Spanish Music – Selena, Celia Cruz, Ricky Martin, Shakira. I’ll listen to the song and attempt to translate as much as possible. LyricsTranslate.com is an awesome website that will bring up the lyrics in both English and Spanish, side by side. I try to sing a long as much as possible.

4. Switching iPhone settings to Spanish – What a great idea. I can’t believe I waited until yesterday to do this. Not only will most things on the iPhone appear in Spanish, but people’s posts on Instagram have an “ver traddución” option that will automatically translate an English post into Spanish.

5. Lastly and most importantly, I make an honest attempt to speak in Spanish, even if I know my grammar is wrong – I’m trying to focus less on always conjugating correctly and more on simply communicating, which is helping me learn words faster than if I wait for my Spanish to be perfect. This is a mistake so many language learners fall into, and it really hurts progress.

Yesterday I also discovered an awesome resource on the Internet and YouTube called Gringo Español. Even though he is a Native English speaker, he really breaks down Spanish concepts in a way any one can understand. Here he is explaining one of the concepts I’ve struggled with the most:

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