Making Progress with JNCL Challenge

Day 7 of JNCL Challenge

I've been in Los Angeles at the California Association of Bilingual Educators and am driving back to Oregon through a beautifully green California. Sheila is actually driving. Don't worry. It was a great conference. Such passion for true bilingual education! There does, however, seem to be a divide between the bilingual educators and the world language educators that is unnecessary and damaging to the common cause that we share of expanding the number of Americans who speak English and a second language. I want to help to change that.

Continuing my search for real Spanish content to listen to online, I stumbled on Radio Ambulante, which was recently acquired by NPR. It is a series of 20 to 30 minute newsy segments on things like a comparison of Maine to Lima, Peru, or moving to Buenos Aires and getting a job. It is great for me because it is real language, not dumbed down or slowed down, it is the perfect length to listen to when I go for my three-mile run, and it has great support on the website. There I can get the transcription in Spanish and the translation into English. So I cut and paste the Spanish into a Word Doc and type in the English for the words I don't know in CAPS next to the Spanish.

Looking at the word order I see just how different the syntax is from English. ¿Tengo que decir el apellido también? Do I have to say my last name too? I can also see how tricky relying on cognates can be. I was talking with my old partner, Carl Falsgraf last week, talking about the comparison of learning Japanese (the language both Carl and I speak) and Spanish. I was relating that my experience in studying Spanish so far had been humbling. I thought it would be very easy compared to learning Japanese, but I have found the syntax challenges greater than I had expected. Carl added, "yeah, and all the false cognates will really confuse you". And he's right. Like the word "Nombre" that popped up in the Radio Ambulante story about Buenos Aires. Thinking it meant "Number" I was confused until I read the English translation and found out that it meant "First name".

Listening to the stories I catch a few words and fewer phrases. Little victories. When I catch a word that I haven't caught before I grab it and chew on it to try to make it mine, and disconnect from the stream of words for a few seconds. I may understand 10% or 15% now, but I can see that I am growing and catching more. It's uneven. Some days I catch more than others so it's alternatively thrilling and depressing. But I can feel a new world opening up to me, and I love it.

Day 20 of JNCL Challenge

I have been reminded that learning a language is a humbling exercise. Once the euphoria about learning a lot of new words and expressions wore off, I was faced with the reality that this is work, and that I really need to have a cohesive plan that I stick to. So, I confess, I took last week off. Yes, I was busy, but like everything else, if it's important to me I will make time for it. No more excuses.

So this week I am back on track. I have been using the Online Lesson Authoring from Transparent Language and love it. It lets me import a piece of text and then it automatically builds exercises around the vocabulary that I select in the text. I am using an article about a Panamanian Airline that is buying a new type of airplane that will enable it to expand its business. There is lots of great vocabulary that is of interest to me. It is also forcing me to focus on how articles are used - a, al, en, para, como, por, etc. They seem to be used differently than in English, so I am having trouble getting my mind to open up and accept the ways that they work. But I can see some progress.

Five Miles In

They say learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint. Well, if that's true, and I believe it is, I just hit mile 5 in my marathon. No, I don't mean I'm almost 20% to perfect Spanish. Not even close. But it feels like I feel when I'm hitting the 5-mile marker in a 26.2-mile race - not that I do a lot of marathons - my count is 2. The adrenaline that surged through me at the start, the over-excitement and somewhat reckless speed have passed, as has the let down after the adrenaline drained away around mile 3 or 4.

So now I'm in rhythm, just working away every day. All I am doing now is working to expand my vocabulary. I am reading newspaper articles from the El Nuevo Herald in Miami and looking up words that I can't figure out from context and inhibit my understanding. I am gradually figuring out verb endings as I do this. Articles are still the hardest for me followed by syntax, i.e. word order. Although Spanish syntax is a lot more like English than Japanese is, it still throws me fairly often. And those false cognates are a kick. Who in the world would think "éxito" means "success"?

I can feel enough progress that I now know that I will keep working on my Spanish every day long after our three month contest ends. I am as determined to get to advanced low in Spanish as I was to finish my marathons under my targeted times. Once you have done the work to train for a marathon, it is an exhilarating experience. So is becoming proficient in a new language.

About the Author:

Photo: David Bong

David Bong

Co-Founder & CEO of Avant Assessment

After successful roles in consulting, sales and web service information, CEO David Bong co-founded Avant Assessment in 2001 with his wife, Sheila, and Dr. Carl Falsgraf, formerly the Director of the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon. Avant is a leader in improving student outcomes in immersion and world language programs by providing data from its online, adaptive, real-world language assessments.