Could you go on holidays to a country where you don’t speak the language? It depends on the country but often you can, definitely if you stay in more or less touristic areas. Could you stay there for a year without speaking the language? Perhaps yes, but your life will be much better if you do speak it. I would argue that the locals appreciate it a lot more, even if you’re skills are ‘basic’ at best. This at least is my experience with Sweden where close to everybody speaks English. I imagine the same for other countries, including Costa Rica.
I’m a bit annoyed, I admit, by the fact that I have to learn yet another language. Being from a small country where it’s vital to learn at least one foreign language, or better two, I pocketed Dutch, German (because much of engineering books were in German – except that I ended up in computer science which is basically a English-only job), French (because of my mother’s family) and English (by default) at high school. Then when I arrived in Sweden, I added Swedish to the list. By then, I had lost much of my German and French. Still, I was kind of hoping that I could leave it at that. Next, I got together with Cristina, who is Spanish. When I am in Spain, I can get away with letting her do the talking, although la familia has been putting some soft pressure on me. But now that the Costa Rica sabbatical is on the horizon, I have ran out of excuses. Okay then, Spanish it is.
Not planning : the lazy option
There is a huge planning element about the language factor when it comes to sabbaticals because it takes a while, me at least, to learn a language. I guess there are two basic ways to deal with this. The first one, the lazy one, is to think : ‘well, I’ll learn it mostly while I’m there and be forced to learn the language.’ Indeed, if you’re forced to use it, you’ll learn the language more quickly. However, you won’t learn it over night. This means that you’ll miss out on a lot while you’re learning. On top of that, you’ll loose a lot of precious ‘there’ time that you could have spend on other stuff – like volunteer work and surfing. Even if learning the language is the main goal of your trip, I’d argue that you’d better start learning long in advance.
Planning: the efficient option
“No dejes para mañana lo que puedes hacer hoy”
Anyways, I opted for the second option, which is to learn the language in advance. So I started last autumn, about a year-and-a-half in advance. Perhaps a bit too far ahead of schedule but then again, I am not particularly enjoying it, so I don’t want to spend large blocks of time out of my regular weeks. I’m spending about half an hour per day, six days per week. I’m hoping that this summer, I can start simple 5-minute conversations with Cristina. Then extend the time and build up gradually, so that by the end of the year, all my daily private talk with her is in Spanish. I did something similar when I learned Swedish and it worked like a shine.
It’s 2019 and the place to go for learning a language is the Duo Lingo app. I started trying it and it hooked me. Initially, I didn’t want to pay for it since I didn’t know how well I would like it. The adds that I got in exchange for not paying were quite annoying at the beginning, but after a week, I got used to them. Fortunately, the adds are inserted between lessons, not within the lessons. Now that I am used to them, I am not considering paying for the app anymore. A note to the marketing people: yes, I would pay for the app if that were my only option
This is not an app review, but here are some of the things that I like about the app: The build up of the topics is very much oriented to daily life and what you’d like to know first – well, with the exception of shopping but that’s me more than the app. The lessons are relatively short, so in half an hour you can do three lessons. There is a lot of repetition, which is good for learning I guess. But even better, when you really think that you got it, you can do a test to skip to the end of the level (each lesson has five levels). The app has some progress counting, so you can see in various ways how far you’ve come. In addition – but lost on me – you can participate in points competition with other users. Slowly, but surely, the level of complexity increases with longer sentences, more complex sentences and more difficult exercises. Last but not least, grammar is very well dosed and you learn it by doing, rather than by reading about it – even though there is some of that too
The app advises me to do the lessons before going to bed. Excellent idea, because that’s how it does not eat away a large block of my week, while I am still spending three hours per week on learning. I interpret before going to bed as before switching off the light, so I am doing my lessons in bed. The app also suggests to read the sentences that it presents out loud. Great tip, the more so because Cristina does not mind and corrects my pronunciation. Also, when I have questions or think that the app gives me a weird correction, I can ask and discuss with her.
After a day of work and half an hour of Duo Lingo, I usually have no issues at all falling asleep.
Es importante dormir bien.
PD. Do not miss the video “Qué hora es? ….” !!