Overcoming the Dips in Learning Spanish

As of this writing, I have completed Spanish 1 and am in the middle of Spanish 2 of Pimsleur’s Spanish.

Learning Spanish has been taking a long time, however. It has been nearly 6 months since I started, and –granted I am not living in a Spanish speaking country yet– I thought learning Spanish would go a lot faster than this. I pictured myself fluent in 3-4 months.

Now, I am not a slow learner. In fact, I think I pick things up pretty quick, as long as I am clear on the material. But with Spanish, it just feels like the project is dragging along. Each day I work on my Spanish, I feel as though I still have so much to learn. I try watching Spanish TV and I cannot understand what they are saying except for 1 word every 30 seconds. This project seems to be so big. It feels like I am eating an elephant.

This may be what Seth Godin calls the “dip.” The dip is a pull back in progress which occurs just after a little bit of progress, but just before a whole lot of progress. The key is to continue to work at what you are doing. The worst time to quit is during the “dip.” Quit before you start, or after you succeed, but not during the “dip.”

So, how do I keep going during the “dip”? I’ve come up with 3 practical ways.

1) I mix up what I am doing.

I am not just going through Pimsleur Spanish. I am spending a lot of time on LiveMocha going through their Spanish courses. They cover vocabulary and grammar in a different order than Pimsleur, so I am finding their program to build a wider knowledge base.

On LiveMocha, you also have the opportunity to chat with native Spanish speakers– something I have begun to do. This is a really good way to develop your language skills; when you need to say something that you want to say, you have to figure it out. So you give it a shot, and the native speaker is there to offer correction if need be.

Also, with LiveMocha you get the advantage of learning idioms and common phrases of dialogue. Just the other day, I was asked “Qué tal fue el fin de la semana?” You might guess my reaction to reading this. I looked at it briefly, and then suddenly the recognition overjoyed me! (How was my weekend?… Muy bien! Y tu?)

2) I store food at work.

I had been in a bad habit of not eating breakfast before I head to the office. I have found that this is not a good practice, as I don’t have the energy I need to have in the morning. (Go figure.) What is taxing is that low energy at work results in lower productivity, which extends into later in the day. The ideal situation is to have good energy levels throughout the day, especially when you are doing mental work– whether that involves working on a project or learning a new language.

So, how did I remedy this? Simple: I store foot at the office.

I have been buying the Carnation Instant Breakfasts as something simple I can store in the office refrigerator. They have a good amount of protein and some vitamins in them, and they don’t taste too bad. They cost about $2 a bottle, but I have found it to be worth the money.

Also, I bought some water and some organic oranges to store in the refrigerator, and a big box of granola bars to sit on my desk. This way, I can snack through the day, and keep my energy levels up.

3) I remember the best way to eat an elephant.

I frequently talk with a friend of mine who is finishing up his Master’s thesis. This thesis is something he has been working on for months and he still has a lot of work to do on it. When I talk with him, I am reminded me of the situation I’m in with becoming fluent in Spanish; it is a really big undertaking.

Because it is such a big project, we metaphorically refer to his thesis as the “elephant”, because, as everyone knows, there is only one way to eat an elephant…

One bite at a time.

Remember: Don’t quit during the dip.

Published September 9, 2010

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