How I Accomplished My 2010 New Year’s Resolution and What I Learned In The Process

I did it.

This past weekend I completed the final lesson in Pimsleur Spanish 3. This was a New Year’s resolution of mine that I kept, with a week to spare before the end of 2010.

It was not easy… It was tedious at times. It was boring at times. It was annoying at times… But I got it done.

In total, this goal took about 100 hours of time over the course of the year. (Not a mountain of time, but not a mole hill, either.)

The most important thing was trying to do something with it every day. I knew that if I didn’t try to do something with Spanish every day, I would never acquire it. Now, I am not fluent by any means, but I am definitely not where I started.

This past month and a half, in fact, I have really been going nuts with it (a result of getting a departure date). I have been practicing over an hour a day with the lessons in an attempt to accelerate my Spanish acquisition.

What I’ve Learned

It is satisfying to have accomplished a goal I set out for myself this year, and I feel I have learned some really valuable things along the way that I might not have learned otherwise.

1. You will not learn to speak Spanish primarily using programs.

This is something that most people understand, I think, when they first attempt to interact with native speakers of the foreign language they’ve been learning. Once you do this, you find that your training with the programs simply did not get you to fluency.

The process of language acquisition teaches you a lot, particularly about what works and what doesn’t work. As one insightful individual put it (Randy), “You learn what you do.”

In other words, what doing the Pimsleur series made me good at was doing the Pimsleur series.

I’m serious. No one can plow through these lessons like I can. I have laser focus and can even multi-task while doing it (play basketball, ride a bike, watch TV, etc). Sure, I learned some Spanish. But the main thing this program did was made me good at the program. In some ways, it made me conditioned to hearing certain expressions and cadences over and over again… which will not happen in real life.

In future language acquisition, I will go much more the route of guerrilla / active / in-life practicing… because that is what I want to get good at anyway.

2. Your goals should be modified if you find out they are not taking you where you want to go.

As I said above, a lot of what Pimsleur did for me is make me good at the Pimsleur program. About mid-way through, though, I found LiveMocha interactions, Skype friends, Spanish music, and a lot of other ways which helped me to acquire Spanish better. However, I didn’t realize these existed until half-way through the year!

I know I would be much further behind if I had a “Pimsleur only” approach to Spanish simply because it was my resolution. I’m glad I was open-minded. I needed to be flexible and incorporate better ways of doing things that I didn’t know about when I made the resolution.

3. Your goals need to go in your schedule.

If you don’t put it in your schedule, it is not a priority. If it’s not a priority, it will never get done… I had to consciously set apart the time to get to the Spanish lessons by planning a convenient time of day to get to them.

Imagine the utter inanity if year after year you come up with goals and yet never schedule them. What is the point of having goals if they are not a priority? “I don’t have time” is the lamest excuse in the world. Your time is now. Aren’t your goals the things you want to be working on during your time? …This is your life by the way, in case you haven’t noticed.

There is no such thing as busyness. There is only priority.

4. Make wise use of your “middle” time.

Also about half way through the year, I realized that I had a lot of time that I could use for listening to these audio lessons. Riding in the car, watching TV, riding the bike in the gym all could be transformed into more productive goal-achieving time.

If you have these “middle” times in your day that are currently not productive, or that could be more productive, throw on your headphones and get learning! Middle time is a great way to do more things during the day than you thought possible.

This is some of what I’ve learned from my 2010 resolutions. What have you learned?


  • Thanks for the link and the kind words!

    You brought up something interesting here, which has been on my mind a lot as I consider my goals for next year, regarding flexibility. In making a plan for a goal, especially one a big as a whole year, it’s important to allow room in your plan for things to change along the way, such as when you discover something new mid-way, or when you realize that a previous assumption isn’t realistic.

    I’m working on a few really big things for 2011, and the hardest part right now is formulating the goals in such a way that they will not be completely destroyed or deemed useless if new information changes my understanding or assumptions about what I want to do.

    Well, anyway, cool post. And thanks for the link love!

    • Ryan

      Yea, totally Randy… It’s like, the last thing we want to do is be confined by our goals. I suppose it’s somewhat of a balancing act because we definitely want to complete the things we said we would do, yet remain open to new ways of doing things which would be better or truer.

      It’s been great finding your blog this year… Here’s to a great 2011!

  • Que bueno! I agree that you really need to find a reason to use it every day. Sometimes I just find reading lyrics as I listen to music is good.

    I know it’s cheesy but Enrique Iglesias has really simple lyrics and it’s simple to learn some of his songs.

    • Ryan

      I don’t know, Ayngelina… I feel like if I started listening to Enrique Inglesias I would actually turn into cheese.

  • Excellent post, Ryan! I completely agree that most big goals, if not inked into specific times in your calendar, will never become reality. Congrats on keeping your resolution! Here’s to writing more for [and, accomplishing them in] the new year . . .

    • Ryan

      Thanks Mark, you too! Onward towards making things a reality!

  • Wow, a new years resolution that actually got kept. There must be some mistake? Nice going Ryan, and all good points as well. While you’re certainly correct that you can’t master a skill on books and audio alone, I have to say I think the Pimsleur method is a really excellent one and I’ve been very impressed with the Pimsleur materials that I’ve used (on Thai). I had tried all kinds of different stuff to build vocabulary like note cards, lists etc. The Pimsleur stuff blew all of that right out of the water. Sure anything can get tedious after you’ve been doing it for a while, but I thought the way those courses are structured really makes it as fun and effective as any program you’re likely to find.

    • Ryan

      Thanks, Lach! I do think Pimsleur is basically as good as it gets when it comes to programs (…expect a larger review of it coming down the pipe), as I have tested several other programs. I think one of the strengths of the program is letting you hear native speakers and work on your accent by repetition… It’s just that a program (any program) is limited in preparing you to produce the expression you want to produce on the spot, as you do in convos with native speakers. One of the things that disappointed me was that I thought after I finished all 3 levels that I would be able to understand Spanish TV, songs, and native speakers, but alas, I estimate I am only about 40% of the way to that promiseland.

  • Courses should be used only to get used to the language. Once you have a basic understanding of how it works… it is reading time! Once you can read newspapers, a new world of words opens ahead. I recently passed this point with my Icelandic (this was a kind of New Year resolution I had, to learn enough Icelandic to talk while I was on Iceland last July, but I could only say a few phrases… amazingly enough, almost all Icelanders talked to me in Icelandic, maybe I look like an Icelander?) and have started to read short news snippets in my RSS reader. But I still have a lot of grammar to go, but have enough to at least know what I am looking for in the dictionary (is that a noun? is in genitive? dative?)



    • Ryan

      Yes Ruben! Reading is great. Thus far, I think I have underestimated it’s power as I really would like to speak Spanish properly. But, to tell the truth I’ve found the two go hand in hand, and actually I just read an entire email from a Colombian in Spanish without a hiccup!

      Thanks for stopping by, Ruben! I wish you more success in 2011!

  • This post really resonates with me as I have struggled with learning Indonesian over the years. I’ve tried books, pimsleur, tapes, CD’s, podcasts, flashcards etc. I even have a wife who speaks the language! But my biggest downfall was not spending the time learning and practicing and trying. I need to really take your #3 to heart and schedule my goals. Congrats on your lessons learned. Happy New Year Ryan!

    • Ryan

      Thanks, Matt! For the record, I think Pimsleur is great because it is always available as something you can do, a la plug-n-play. But, you’re right, unless you get down to scheduling it, it’s going to keep being put off.

      So wheres your Indonesian time slot this week, man? 🙂