I haven’t taken a Spanish class since like middle school, but I was okay at it back then. I knew some words and got good grades and could communicate certain things. Still, I would have never tried to read a regular book in Spanish or opted to speak Spanish unprompted or written a few sentences of my own in Spanish. It seemed like a separate thing from regular life. I liked it, but it was just another class I was taking.
I recently picked up a book called Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish that teaches you Spanish, and it feels very different. The approach is a lot more natural. For example, it teaches past tense first and right in the beginning it encourages you to make up words just to get started. Anyway it’s a good book, and it’s extra good having some background already. A lot of the vocab, plus “puedo ir al bano” or “como se dice”–things like that pop up. Those sayings make some of the harder grammar lessons more automatic because I’ve seen and said those words before.
But I made a fatal error with this book and it’s that I began feeling strapped to that particular book. I wanted to finish it first (it’s like 450 pages) before anything else. So I’d write some paragraphs of my own, but I wasn’t reading any other books. That was the book I was reading. Then I got stuck at lo, le, and la around page 350 and felt defeated. So yesterday I finally put that book down and picked up something else–a beginners novel in Spanish I bought at the same time. Right away, I felt like a million bucks because it was great, easy reading.
A few pages in, I realized that I’d forgotten the most important rule about teaching yourself something–you have to use more than one text. Yes I wanted to get the basics down, but it’s hard getting through a thick book like that without anything to offset it. Nothing to prove the lessons. Nothing casual. No plotline. I really needed a break from the back to back instructions. And I really needed to get comfortable reading Spanish outside of that book. If how she teaches lo, le, and la isn’t sticking, I need to look elsewhere. I need to bring it to real life.
-Rachel Wagner 2021
Other relevant pieces: In a state of longing & Parting with my college space heater & Forgetting your book & Needed: more reading in first-year writing
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