Starting My Bilingual Summer

Christine Gilbert, author of the wonderful and inspiring travel lifestyle blog Almost Fearless, recently wrote about her intention to learn a new language this summer, and challenged her readers to join. Well, join and compete with her, using Duolingo, a free online language learning site promising no ads or hidden fees now and forever. That’s right, free, forever.

Duo, the Duolingo owl.
Duo, the Duolingo owl.

I’ve been talking about learning a second (or third) language since I was born, so I’ve decided to join and compete with her. She’s crushing me at the moment, but that’s the point. Duolingo brings an unusual twist to the tired language-learning routine: competition. By adding Christine as my friend directly through the site, along with a few friends I’ve taunted or tricked into competing, each of our scores are plotted next to one another on the Leaderboard; the more I practice, the more “skill points” I earn, and the closer I’ll be to dethroning her and dominating my friends. That’s my plan, anyway.

¿Qué Hora Es?

This isn’t my first showdown with Spanish – we were first introduced many years ago in middle school, then again over two semesters in high school; we had another go in college, and one or two more feeble attempts as a young professional. And yet over a decade after our first affair I can only manage basic introductions, a few random verbs, and asking for the time, and that’s only because I’ve probably asked for the time more en Español than I ever have in English.

So what makes this time different? In all of my previous attempts I went about language learning in all the wrong ways. I took classes because I had to; I bought books I never made time to read; I let days and weeks lapse into months without practicing; I never enlisted a tutor’s help or sought conversation with native speakers; I never surrounded myself with the language. I never had a plan.

In her post Christine offers some smart suggestions to go from thinking about learning a language to actually learning one:

Create an immersive environment this summer full of movies, music, books and other media in that language. Reach out to native speakers on sites like for language exchanges. Find local resources. Be creative.

This Time, I Have a Plan

As I begin my own bilingual summer, here’s what I intend to do over the next several months:

  1. Actively use the language every day. There are no limits here. It could be 15 minutes of deconstructing the language, a half hour speaking with a tutor, listening to Spanish podcasts, watching Telemundo, or competing on Duolingo for a bit just after breakfast.
  2. Create an immersive environment full of movies, music, books and other media in Spanish (see above).
  3. Connect with a native speaker. Since I’m traveling each week to Toronto this one might prove tricky, but I’m determined to come up with an arrangement that works and share it here.
  4. Master the most-written and most-spoken Spanish words. In the past I’ve wasted too much time following rigid textbooks that dithered in rarely used vocabulary or complex phrases; since my goal this summer is to confidently converse with native Spanish speakers this feels like a good place to start.

I’ll revisit each of these periodically to write about what’s working and what’s not, but until then: Aquí vamos!

6 thoughts on “Starting My Bilingual Summer”

  1. I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to do my practice on duolingo than practice by listening to the tv or speaking. Gotta get on that…

    1. I think most people find this true about themselves, I know I certainly did. This time around I’m actively incorporating TV, movies and other Spanish media into my daily life – give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

  2. Yo he jugado el programa DuoLingo todos los dias desde hace el año pasado y yo he aprendido mucho mucho espagnol gracias a el. Es un programa excelente. Yo lo he casi terminado. Yo puedo hablar en espagnol cuando lo quiero.

  3. here’s some ALT codes to get you started with your punctuation; you’re going to need them if you want to be authentic:
    ALT + 129 ü
    ALT + 130 é
    ALT + 160 á
    ALT + 161 í
    ALT + 162 ó
    ALT + 163 ú
    ALT + 164 ñ
    ALT + 168 ¿
    ALT + 173 ¡

    Aquí vamos! is missing the upside down exclamation part…