Learning the Spanish Language — Project Day 43

Words & Phrases — Pimsleur 2.28

Nothing very significant to report, except the usual uncertainties about when to use or omit prepositions and articles.

Irregular Verb — 'saber'

A trivial exercise on the indicative present. The usual incidental errors of omission on accents:

  • dónde
  • por qué está
  • sabe él dónde — I omitted 'él' entirely

Hypothesis — 'por' + 'qué' are separate with the accent when 'why' is not a question, but a reason?

I've never noticed the pairing 'él dónde' before. And definitely don't remember ever having learned why the full solution required the 'él' — in "¿Sabe él dónde está Maria?"

Glossika Spanish Fluency

Yesterday, I made the mistake of assuming that the "Spanish Fluency" course followed the same procedure as the "Spanish Business" course that I'd done frequently — it doesn't. There's a different set of audio files and, seemingly, a wider range of procedural options.

I'm documenting the procedure here, partly to process it mentally, but also to provide quicker and clearer reminders in future.

  1. Scan the next 10-50 sentences
    • In the manual
  2. Listen to today's sentences
    • From the GMS A file
  3. Write today's sentences
    • From A or C file audio — try without the book
    • IPA? — not necessary for latin script
  4. Re-listen to today's sentences
    • Record yourself speaking them
  5. Review yesterday's recordings
    • Note any further work required
  6. Listen to GMS C files
    • ID pronunciations that need improvement
  7. Record the sentences from the last four days
    • As a review
  8. Translate the B file sentences
    • Continue past 'fails'
    • Mass practice is better than perfect practice
  9. Burnt-out?
    • Don't attempt new sentences
    • Repeat those for the last 4 days

It's pretty clear from that list, that the 'full' Glossika method involves a lot more repetition and work on each sentence — than I was giving to the "Spanish Business" sentences.

I want to test the method properly, by trying to stick more closely to it than I did previously. But, now that I understand how much stress the method puts on memorisation through repetition — I'll need to reduce the number of sentences I do per day.

Reviewing the previous four days' worth of sentences every day, plus recording and listening to myself, and then making notes, is going to multiply the time required per sentence by at least 6 — probably more.

Previously, I was doing 50 sentences per day. Dividing that by 6 or more, would take me under the 10 sentence daily minimum. So I'll start with 10 per day, to see how much time they require.

Hopefully, the extra time devoted to doing one fifth of the sentences will pay-off in greater memorisation and retention. If it doesn't, I can diverge from the approved method, confident that I gave it a 'fair go' — and that it didn't work.

On reflection ...

The early sentences are too easy to get much benefit from following the complete method on them, so ...

I've decided to continue working through 50 sentences per day, following my previous approach — until they get difficult enough to make it worth the effort of experimenting with the full method.

So I actually did sentences 051 to 100. It was trivially easy.

Latino vs. Metropolitan Spanish

However, I did notice one huge difference between "Spanish Fluency" and "Spanish Business". The latter was Latin American (essentially, Mexican) Spanish, whereas the former is Metropolitan.

Working directly on Metroplitan Spanish makes things a lot easier, despite the sounds being harder for English speaking mouths to perform. Because, I'm targeting metro Spanish.

Which meant that speaking metro Spanish based on listening to Mexican Spanish involved 2 transpositions:

  1. Transforming Mexican sounds into Madrilleno sounds
  2. Generating Madrilleno sounds from a mouth that's not yet tuned to producing them

It's not that I have much problem producing the soft Cs and Zs, or the soft Gs and Js — it's just that I have difficulty in performing rapid and successive switches into and out of performing them.

For example, 'ejercicio' and 'casa' are quite easy because all consonants are either 'special' or not 'special', but when an 'S' follows a syllable starting with soft 'C' my mouth is in 'special mode' and wants to lisp the 'S' — obviously wrong.

CEFR Level — targetting B1 for now

I've realised that too many of my current exercises are excessively basic. The main reason for that, is that it's virtually impossible to figure out where to start later in a course, if you don't already know what came before.

Moreover, actually doing beginners' exercises has revealed that there are a few gaps in my basic knowledge and lots of poor performance — especially on gender agreement, accents, articles, and prepositions. So it's far from having been a waste of time.

Fortunately, an increasing number of courses are now targetted at specific CEFR Levels. So, once I've completed the current courses that I'm following, I think I'll start working on B1 courses for the following month or two.

This is considerably lower than my reading level, and probably a bit below my listening level, but it's close to my speaking level. Which means that there will be plenty of idioms that I recognise and understand, but cannot yet perform naturalistically.

Translation — Cardinal and Ordinal Number Pronouns

Possibly the worst score I've ever had on an exercise — and far worse, because I'm not sure where or why I went wrong.

Most of my fails came in a single sequence of sentences listing dishes from first to tenth. I initially used the feminine form for the ordinals — because the five named dishes were female. But on reflection, I changed them all to male — reasoning that 'plato' is male and 5/10 dishes were unspecified, and therefore abstract/indefinite.

The solution says they should all be female, but doesn't explain why.

In three instances I was completely unsure as to whether named items required the definite article or not. I got 2/3 correct, but that was simply a coin toss. I've still no idea when the article is or isn't required.

I omitted the 'para' from "comemos para ver" — I had "comemos a ver". Clearly, there's still work to do on 'para' and 'por'.

Finally, I used 'delicioso' for 'delicious' — when the solution wanted 'sabrosa'. Fine. The error made me notice this synonym more intently than I would have done, had I used it.

Mixing Imperfect and Preterite — Language Transfer

For example, "I was cooking, when the phone rang".

I did fairly well on the exercises, but they emphasised an embedded flaw — once again. And that flaw manifests in the dominance of '-ar' verb forms in my mind, i.e. when using the preterite or the imperfect, my mind goes to the '-ar' form, before it checks whether I'm using an '-ar', '-er' or '-ir' verb.

And that has a vicious circle effect — thinking about the -ar form endings, even when I know they are wrong, reinforces their imprint and shade out the '-er/-ir' endings. In short, I can remember the '-er/-ir' endings, but they get harder to pull from my memory.

I'm not sure whether to try exclusive practice on the '-er/-ir' endings, or just let them sink in over time, through general practice. I suspect that I'll go with the latter, for now. It's less artificial, and requires no extra effort to set-up.


It's becoming ever more embarrassing to put crosses against 'Reading' in the checklist. But that's not the fundamental reason why I need to find a way to set aside time for reading in Spanish.

The most important reason is that reading probably offers the best route to a major step forward, right now. By allowing me to repeat and and reinforce patterns with relatively low effort — while encountering a much wider vocabulary than I'm getting from formal courses.

Thus far, the Pimsleur and Glossika courses are helping me expand my vocabularly beyond the very meagre base provided by the socratic methods. They are great for building an essential skeleton of gramar, but I'm increasingly feeling constrained by my lack of trace vitamins and minerals.

I need the vocabulary equivalents of iodine, Vitamin D, vitamin B12, etc. — as well as a wider range of interesting fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

I've never really tried hard to enforce the 'reading hour' that I originally planned for 9pm-10pm. That is something I'm determined to fix this week.

Non-subbed Video

I haven't got enough, suitable, resources of this type. I generally, find serious documentaries are at just the right level for me. But I don't have enough of them.

Serious documentaries work particularly well, because the speech is generally slower and clearer than drama, the vocabulary tends to lean on the latin roots common to the academic forms present in all West European languages, and the pictures provide further context.

Obviously, the dumbed-down, wow factor, style documentaries are utterly useless — because they lean towards emotional, idiomatic, speech forms and their images are typically distracting rather than explanatory.

However ...

Nordic Noir — in Spanish

I've just re-discovered a drama form that delivers non-subbed video in a manageable form — Nordic Noir dubbed into Spanish. I'm not yet at the level where I can watch a whole hour of un-subbed Spanish drama and really enjoy it. So almost every evening I watch something with English subs.

For the last week or so, I've been bingeing on "Borgen" dubbed into Spanish. However, because the subtitles are designed for English speakers, they don't cover the English dialogue that Danes use when talking with other Europeans — but that dialogue is still dubbed into Spanish.

So most recent episodes are sprinkled with 1-3 minute slots dubbed into Spanish, but not subtitled. The sentences are almost always too long and too fast for me to mentally translate in realtime, but I almost always get the gist — so much so, that the 'English' dialogue has often gone on for 30+ seconds before I notice that the subs are missing.

These short, frequent, but irregularly spaced, slots provide excellent aural comprehension exercises — excellent, because it's usually fast-paced and idiomatic enough to stretch me, but interesting enough to encourage perseverence, and short enough to avoid exhaustion.

Learning Tasks Checklist

Task M T W T F S S
Word/phrase aural+oral
Sentence aural+oral
Socratic aural+oral
Verb exercises
Pronoun exercises
Preposition exercises
Physical exercise
Non-subbed video
Subbed video
Research lang. learning
List 'issues'
Prepare materials

Contact Davie Fisher

By form

By Phone

+44 (0)113 234 4611

By email


By snail mail

Flat 3 15 South Parade Leeds LS1 5PQ United Kingdom