It´s a pain in the neck and you´re knackered. This “learning Spanish” gig just goes on and on with no end in sight. Well, that´s what you signed up for. What did you think language-learning was like? A weekend of webinars? A two-day tour of Twitter?
It´s not. Learning a language is real work – but it doesn´t all have to be wearisome. The trick is to move the goalposts closer.
I learned this valuable lesson when I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or M.E., at 30. Perpetual exhaustion meant I could barely do anything and I was continually frustrated by my lack of progress in every area of my life. But then someone said, “move the goalposts closer”. In other words, don´t try so hard, don´t aim so high, don´t care so badly because it will get better!
And you know what? It did. So keep that in mind when you´re frazzled by the pretérito pluscuamperfecto and perplexed by por and para. Have a little faith in the process. And for those days when your subjugation of the subjunctive slackens, do the following:
- Stay in bed. What do you need to get up for when you can stay under the covers and read the Spanish press online for free?
- Do “Coffee-break Spanish” (founded by an ex-student of mine, Mark Pentleton) with the aforementioned coffee and a chocolate napolitana. Then forget about Spanish for the day.
- Ask for help. I used to have to ask for help to the loo, so asking about ser and estar doesn´t seem like a biggie to me. (P.S. I suggest the less-tiring underside of the missionary position if help is joining you in bed).
- Flick through a thoroughly frivolous magazine article. Try Casa Diez, Astralis or best of all, ¡Hola! The good news is that you can learn Spanish even by reading rubbish.
- Start your siesta on the sofa at 3.30pm – with the weather report. Even half-asleep you´ll learn marejada and fuerte marejada and never have to bother with such useless vocabulary again. (“High seas” and “very high seas”).
- Singalongasong Pick Miguel Bosé (anybody can sing better than him).
- Try something different. When my brain was too fuddled to read I took up punto de cruz (cross stitch) till I ran out of wall space and all my towels had floral borders. So, instead of Spanish from Spain, go for Chicano Spanish. Chicanos make up Spanish as they go along, throwing in a whole bunch of English. They don´t get hung up on it and it´s cool to sound like Robert Rodríguez.
- Here in Spain, take a half-day course….but not a language one. Photography, flower-pressing or Ethiopian cuisine, whatever. You´ll meet new people and be so busy learning something you´ll forget you´re listening to Spanish.
- Give yourself the day off. Your brain assimilates Spanish even when you´re idle.
- And remember that while YOU might be struggling with Spanish, people with M.E. are struggling with just about everything else. And in case you´re interested, I was one of the lucky ones who, after eight years, got completely better.