I’m trying to use your method to better learn Spanish. I speak some Spanish having lived abroad for a couple years, but I can’t watch a movie, read a book, or participate in a conversation without getting lost very quickly. I have tried to start “getting input” – reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a videogame in Spanish, however it’s very difficult and confusing and like I said – I get lost pretty quick. And this is with enough skill with the language that I can “get by” (ask questions, order food, etc.) in Spanish already.
I’m sure you’ve counseled people in the past who’ve started out with a language at the very beginning or at least earlier than me. What am I missing? Is it just patience to pore through movies and books and make whatever sense of them I can for much more time? Or is there some other method I should be supplementing at the very beginning (e.g. Pimsleur) until I am able to get through a movie & use a Spanish-Spanish dictionary?
There are three routes you can take when you’re starting to learn a language:
- Regular content + patience + dictionaries. Diving headfirst into foreign-language content, even with a dictionary by your side, is a real challenge. As with any challenging activity, it can be very satisfying if you succeed, but also very frustrating if you get lost.
- Simplified content + dictionaries. Simplified books (AKA graded readers) can teach you basic vocabulary and grammar quickly in a fun way. Some may be available in audio form as well. You may also want to look into podcasts for beginners. (More advice on simplified books)
- SRS/flashcards. Learn 1,000 most common words and basic grammatical patterns using an SRS (Anki, SuperMemo, etc.) or regular paper flashcards. The goal of this is to get you reading regular books (or at least advanced graded readers) and listening to real Spanish as quickly as possible. This method can give you a head start, but learning vocabulary and grammar without any meaningful context can get a bit tedious and requires a fair bit of persistence. Obviously, you also need good resources to study from, which can be hard to find, depending on the language.
Personally, I would go with (2) in most situations.
(1) I find intellectually stimulating, but inefficient.
(3) is efficient, but I always prefer to learn vocabulary in context, in a more “organic” way. I’d choose this method if I was under time pressure (for example, if I had to acquire a working knowledge of Spanish in 3 months) and I had access to a good SRS collection or flashcard deck – or at least a list of most common words, a basic grammar book, and a good learner’s dictionary (then maybe I’d make an SRS collection myself out of the examples in the grammar book and the dictionary). Note: if I was making my own collection, I wouldn’t spend too much time on each item – as these would be basic items, I’d probably stop reviewing them in a few months anyway. In other words, I’d use the collection as a sort of scaffolding.
One more thing: it’s entirely okay to start with bilingual dictionaries. You can move on to monolingual dictionaries when you feel ready. If you then find you’re getting confused by a monolingual dictionary, you can go back to a bilingual one. It all depends on the dictionaries and your personality. Don’t work against your brain just to follow a method!