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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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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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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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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