rpg learns Spanish, French, German, Mandarin

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rpg
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:52 pm

Finished lesson 6 of French in Action and on to Lesson 7! I did lesson 6 with my SO, but starting lesson 7 I'm going to do them on my own, because I realized that I want to go at a pretty good clip to hit my goals. I think I would like to finish FiA, or come close to it, before we go (4.5 mo away). That's 20 weeks in which to do 46 lessons, which means 2.3 lessons a week-- basically a lesson every 3 days. That's quite a lot and may be hard to achieve. I can afford to miss that target a little bit at first since I'll have more time after I quit my job in which to focus on French more intensively, but regardless it's a high goal and a lot of work. I think this would take me up to around B1.

David and Helen arrived yesterday so I'll be trying to slowly work through that for Mandarin. My immediate goal is still to get and keep my Skritter queue down to 0 though.

Nothing new with Spanish this week.
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Thu Dec 19, 2019 7:44 pm

Well... it's been three months. I have since quit my job, as I said I was planning to do above. The other plans, like many plans, didn't go so well. I think I burned out a bit on language learning after my summer of Mandarin, which feels like a dream now that I look back on it. I instead spent some time on some other hobbies and on some career-related skills.

I was on vacation in Southeast Asia last week, though, and as it often does, travel reignited some of my language-learning flames, especially with Chinese. I decided to reset my Skritter account, nuking all my progress, and start from scratch. Over the course of the last week and a half I relearned how to read/write every item from the first Integrated Chinese book, about 14 hours in total. Even though most characters I could not write correctly my first attempt, I was pleased to see how quickly they came back to me. Many of them I just needed to write once to relearn. I still remember the suffering when I first learned these and how long it took to really nail each one, so it was almost thrilling to go through them so much faster; I felt like a super-learner.

I still have to relearn the characters from the second book, which will probably take a little longer since I learned those less well to begin with (due to less repetition/reinforcement). And I also need to do some review of the various grammar points and structures we learned. I think a lot of pieces of grammar I effectively memorized rather than acquired, so some of that stuff has definitely slipped. After I refresh everything I may try to make some slow forward progress.

I'm currently in the middle of applying to the Princeton in Beijing summer program. I see from my previous posts that this summer I was thinking I would enter having "two years" of (university) Mandarin behind me. Now that we're halfway through the academic year, and given my other priorities, that seems less likely, but oh well-- I think the program would still be worth doing even if I were in the lowest level. First I have to get in; their website says admissions are competitive.

On to French. This one I've started to panic over a bit, since I was hoping to have a B1 level or so when I got to France. Now we're leaving in around 5 weeks and I'm still a beginner. The past couple days I've kicked the French studying into high gear; it's now my main priority and occupation. I'm currently in the middle of Lesson 8 of FiA and hoping for a pace of roughly one lesson per day from now until we leave. Of course, some things I don't think you can really compress (for one thing, I can only learn so many vocabulary words a day...), so even a month of highly intense studying can only get me so far. But no point in worrying about that; I'm just going to try to learn as much as I can.

Finally, I haven't been doing much with Spanish. But I'm going to Mexico City for the new year, so that should be fun, and I expect it'll kick up some excitement. I haven't decided if I want to try to do any language preparation for the trip; I might schedule an iTalki lesson or two and watch a little Spanish TV.
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rpg
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Mon Dec 23, 2019 10:50 pm

With French I've just finished lesson 9 of FiA and on to lesson 10. The holidays mean a little less time, ironically, so I have to make do with my current pace. It will probably get slower leading up to the new year since I'll be traveling.

I bought a few reference books, though I haven't had a chance to open 'em yet: The Sounds of French, a book on French phonology; A Comprehensive French Grammar, a grammar reference; and Colloquial French Grammar, a reference for spoken/non-"standard" language.

I also bought a Spanish vocabulary book (Big Red Book of Spanish Vocabulary) since that's something that's been on my mind-- triggered by seeing the verb albergar (meaning to harbor or house) in an article, looking it up, and discovering it's pretty high on frequency lists. This is exactly the kind of word that I need to add to my vocabulary if I ever want to hit an advanced level of Spanish.

Beyond that I've been reading some journal articles about second language acquisition this past week. They're generally pretty fascinating; in a future post I want to record some of the things I encountered for posterity.
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby Querneus » Tue Dec 24, 2019 12:58 am

I like the way the Collins Spanish-English dictionary explains the difference between alojar a alguien, alojarlo (and dar(le) alojamiento a alguien) on the one hand and albergar on the other. The first one is used in conjunction with people, particularly a family but also students at a college, the displaced after a disaster, visiting professors at a university or speakers at a conference, etc., in the sense of providing an accommodation for them, as in a building with sleeping space. The second one, albergar, is used with a nuance focused on the idea that space is provided there for something, whether it's sleeping space, work activities, or simple storage for merchandise.

Note that the noun el albergue means 'refuge, shelter', and is used mostly with people, but albergar does not have any such nuance of temporary relief. Funny how closely related words can differ in meaning like that...
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rpg
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Thu Jan 02, 2020 8:06 am

Happy New Year!

I just got back from Mexico City. I have several things to discuss, but I want to focus on them one at a time. On the flight back today, I bought internet access and did a Kwiziq Spanish quiz for fun, since I've seen some other members of the forum talking about it favorably recently. I had signed up in May, done a few quizzes, been unimpressed and forgotten about it, but I thought it might be worth revisiting. After I took a quiz, I was given a free week of their premium (unlimited), so I spent most of the rest of the flight chugging through quizzes.

The result? I'm still pretty negative about it, to be honest. For context, I'm doing B2 and C1 Spanish quizzes.

I don't think the quizzes themselves are well-executed. To start with, the answers are often guessable with good test-taking strategy and awareness of Spanish parts of speech / syntax. I just started a quiz to illustrate this and saw a good example a few questions in:

"Choose the right answer to this question: ¿Tienes dinero para el billete de tren?"

a) Sí, yo lo tengo.
b) Sí, lo.
c) No, no tengo.
d) No, no lo tengo.

Option b is obviously totally ungrammatical (almost insultingly so). Options a and d are both "the same" in that they're either both correct or both wrong. So it must be option c. Tada!

Another question on the quiz was "Pedro, ___. Ayer lo hice yo." (Pedro, it's your turn to do the washing up. I did it yesterday.) with the options
a) dejas de fregar
b) te toca fregar
c) tu turno fregar
d) debes de fregar

Ignoring that this isn't really a C1 level question, "Pedro, tu turno fregar" isn't even a sentence! There's no verb! And I can't imagine anyone seriously thinking that "dejas de fregar" is right either.

A well-crafted test question should probe your understanding of the topic. You should be tested just as much on when a certain rule, construction, or phrase doesn't work as when it does. You shouldn't be able to answer correctly without really understanding what's going on. I think kwiziq often falls short of the mark here.

Then there's the structure of it. You have 10 lessons, each with a small topic. You know what they're asking for. If one of my lessons is on the word "conque", you can bet that when I see a question where that's one of the options, that's the answer. Often the hint suffices to tell you which lesson it is and you can answer it without even reading the sentence. There's no spaced repetition baked into this, it seems, so if I want to study a bunch in a session, I'm going to end up blazing through 5 reps (or whatever) of variations on the same question, getting little out of them beyond the first one, and then never see that topic again.

There's a diagnostic problem on the site. I shouldn't be recommended all these questions asking me how to put verbs into the subjunctive. It's a waste of my time, but the system doesn't know I know this until I go through it myself...

Finally, I tried the listening exercises and really didn't like them. I thought I'd use my temporary premium week to check out some of the non-free B2 listening. The audio is spoken at an artificially (painfully!) slow speed. This ain't level-appropriate; there's no reason to not use natural tempo speech. Then the structure of it--a few slowly-spoken words, then a break while you transcribe, then repeat--makes it very difficult for me to even keep track of what's going on and what the actual semantic content of the sentence is, leaving me just mechanically transcribing very clear audio. By the time I finished the exercise I was desperately wanting it to be over.

Now some positive things to say about it. I think I have a generally decent command over Spanish grammar. It's probably my strength when it comes to Spanish; it's certainly not vocabulary, speech, or listening comprehension. I also put in a few hundred classroom hours at the B1 through B2+ levels which focused on explicitly teaching all these grammatical ideas. If I were weaker on this stuff, I could see myself being more interested in Kwiziq.

And I still picked up some things today, mostly from the C1 level quizzes I did, so that was nice to see. I'm sure there are things in the B2 bucket I haven't learned yet but I have to slog through a lot of "conjugate this verb in this tense" quizzes to get there.

I will probably put in some more time on these quizzes this week, to take advantage of the free premium and because they're mostly easy and mindless. But overall I don't really like it and I don't have much use for it.
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Tue Jan 07, 2020 11:16 pm

A couple weeks ago I started reading some academic papers on second language acquisition. After all, it would make sense to see what the research says about this thing we spend so much time on, no? I thought I'd collect some of the papers I thought interesting here in this log before I forget about them.

Wong, W. and Van Patten, B. (2003), The Evidence is IN: Drills are OUT. Foreign Language Annals, 36: 403-423. doi:10.1111/j.1944-9720.2003.tb02123.x

Really fascinating article. The authors' summary at the end: "What we are stating in this article comes down to this: As far as acquisition is concerned, drills are simply unnecessary and at best a waste of time for the development of communicative language ability."

When the say "drills" they refer to specifically mechanical drills:

"Paulston defined a mechanical drill as one in which there is complete control of the response and only one correct way of responding. Furthermore, because of the complete control of the response, students do not even need to comprehend the stimulus to successfully complete the drill... it was suggested that in order to test whether a drill is mechanical or not, nonsense words could be substituted into it; if it can be done this way, then it is a mechanical drill."

For example, for Spanish, a mechanical drill could be that you are given a regular -ar verb and asked to produce the tú form (cantar -> cantas, hablar -> hablas, etc.) It's just a regular phonological change and you can do it without understanding what any of these words mean, so it's a mechanical drill.

I thought this was particularly interesting for this forum since some folks here are fans of the audiolingual method, which is characterized by its use of drills like these.

The article is really interesting reading even if you don't care about drills. They discuss some familiar notions from language learning research: that students bring their own internal mechanisms to the task of language acquisition, that these mechanisms operate on input (defined as "meaning-based language that learners hear or see in context. When confronted with input, the learner’s primary goal is to comprehend the speaker’s (or writer’s) message."), and that this input provides data for the construction of a linguistic system. Drills are out of line with this; they provide little meaningful input, and the underlying model behind mechanical drills is that sheer repetition builds acquisition.

They go on to cite various pieces of literature that find mechanical drills ineffective, and then spend some time discussing an approach to grammar instruction called "Processing Input" (PI), which was new to me:

"PI has three basic features or components:
1. Learners are given information about a linguistic structure or form.
2. Learners are informed about a particular input processing strategy that may negatively affect their picking up the form/structure during comprehension.
3. Learners are pushed to process the form/structure during activities with structured input - input that is manipulated in particular ways so that learners become dependent on form and structure to get meaning, and/or to privilege the form/structure in the input so that learners have a better chance of attending to it. Learners do not produce the structure or form during structured input activities. (An illustration of this follows.) "

More details in the paper, but the idea is to identify mistakes that learners typically make with understanding some structure and to give them carefully-chosen input which depends on correctly understanding the structure-- kind of like minimal pair training but for grammar. They then discuss some research that shows this to be effective in language teaching. Along the way they touch on various other topics in language learning research, like the role of output.

Durán, R., & McCool, G. (2003). If This Is French, Then What Did I Learn in School? The French Review, 77(2), 288-299.

I was struck by the great title of this one above all. It talks about the divergence between "standard" French--the written form of the language--with the modern spoken language, and particularly about how classroom instruction focuses on teaching the standard language at the expense of competency with the spoken language. The authors make a few concrete recommendations at the end that I thought interesting:

  1. "the elimination of the e caduc in de when it functions as the negative article, and when it follows quantifying expressions such as beaucoup, un peu, trop, etc." So teaching students to pronounce things like Je n'ai pas de frères as Je n'ai pas d'frères, and to chunk "pas de", "beaucoup de" etc as one single unit.
  2. Discouraging forming questions using inversion and encouraging the use of intonation for yes/no questions (so Tu viens? in preference to Viens-tu?) and est-ce que for informational questions.
  3. Teaching students to completely omit ne in spoken French. "In light of the aforementioned evidence, it becomes clear that this element is rapidly disappearing from contemporary spoken French. Indeed, its even less frequent use by younger Francophones augurs its complete loss in the future... Some instructors will no doubt be shocked by a proposal to encourage this omission. However, one must realize that, in the face of this linguistic trend, the insistent retention of ne in speech sounds increasingly foreign to the native ear."

I'll note that French in Action is pretty good about the first two of these, though ne is retained as far as I've seen so far. Finally, this and other papers inspired me to buy Rodney Ball's Colloquial French Grammar which goes into detail about the features of the spoken language.

Walz, J. (1986). Is Oral Proficiency Possible with Today's French Textbooks? The Modern Language Journal, 70(1), 13-20. doi:10.2307/328063

Another paper about French instruction with an excellent title. Talks about how different textbooks--even those that claimed to be focused on communication--are biased towards teaching the written language. Some examples:

  • Adjectives can often have considerable variation in pronunciation depending on their gender, number, and position, but many of these pronunciation changes are not noted or paid sufficient attention by textbook authors, who instead tend to group adjectives by their written forms.
  • Numbers aren't given sufficient attention even though they have quite a bit of oral complexity (eg six has three different realizations depending on what comes after). "A typical presentation of 60 to 1,000 includes the spelling of each form, comments on the idiosyncratic spelling features (e.g., deux cents vs. deux cent un), and no pronunciation. Thus, books often teach written forms twice and oral forms not at all for words frequently spoken and almost never written. In order to write comprehensive descriptions of grammar, the authors are obviously relying on the fact that written forms are superficially much simpler than oral forms. "
  • Insufficient attention to pronunciation subtleties when presenting stem changing verbs, as well as venir and prendre (eg the nasalization contrast between il vient and ils viennent).
  • Questionable teaching of question formation, over-emphasizing inversion when it is both used infrequently in spoken language and hard for students to acquire.

A nice quote from near the end: "The formation of interrogative sentences and the expression of future events are interesting problems to study. Two or more forms exist for each, yet in both cases the simpler form for non-natives is also the one most frequently used by native speakers. This is a sort of pedagogical nirvana almost completely ignored by textbook authors. They have a tendency to teach items simply because the items exist and not because of any usefulness or frequency"

Hutchinson, H. & Koplin, M. (1998) Home Alone with French in Action: Successful Language Learning in Isolation at Tertiary Level, Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association, 89:1, 67-78, DOI: 10.1179/aulla.1998.89.1.004

Thought this was a fun one since I'm using French in Action myself. The author found that switching to using French in Action for their university distance learning courses led students to do markedly better.
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rpg
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:03 am

Actually, to correct my post above

I'll note that French in Action is pretty good about the first two of these, though ne is retained as far as I've seen so far.


as I worked through FiA lesson 12 I've noticed that this isn't true; the speakers in French in Action often omit "ne" as well, both in the videos and in the audio exercises. In general one of my favorite things about French in Action is that it gives you a very large amount of natural-sounding audio input.

I've had natural audio input on my mind today thinking about my Mandarin. I could certainly do with some more of it there. I'm tempted to buy the Assimil Le Chinois course when I get to Paris in a couple weeks, and I'm tempted to get a subscription to something like Du Chinese to have access to their library of lessons, as short as those are. I feel like for Chinese I know where to get input for reading practice (I have some graded readers and know where to get more), but I'm really not sure about listening practice. Chinese subtitles are usually in characters, which adds way too much overhead when you're trying to focus on acquiring the spoken language. Maybe it's the best there is, though.

I need to finish my application for my summer Mandarin program soon, including recording several minutes of audio. Besides that I'm trying to focus on French until I get there, so that I can start with as high a level as possible; I have to send in a placement test within the next two weeks for the school I'll be attending. I'm currently doing FiA lesson 13. It's certainly gotten a lot harder than it was at the start (perhaps unsurprisingly) but I'm glad of that-- makes me feel like I'm learning. When I first watch a video for a new lesson I've been struggling to follow the scene, but it's quite motivating to see my comprehension shoot up after Capretz's lecture, the audio mise en ouvre, reading the textbook, going through the exercises, and perhaps rewatching the scene once or twice.

I've started making a few more mistakes in the exercises than I did at the start. Part of it is probably my fault--I'm going at a pretty quick pace now, and I'm also skimping on some of the free-response exercises at the end of each lesson. Overall I'm definitely making progress though.

After I finish this lesson (probably tomorrow-- I'm busy tonight) I'll officially be 1/4 of the way through French in Action. It's supposed to be a four semester program when taught in college, so that'll be one semester of French. I found a past DELF A1 paper just now and did the listening and reading comprehension parts, and I scored 25/25 on each, so as long as I would score at least 5/25 on each of the writing and speaking portions, it looks like I would pass the A1, at least. Small victories, I guess.

I'm off to Paris in about two weeks (!). I'll be taking French in Action with me and I'm thinking of working through it concurrently with taking classes, at least at the beginning. My main goal for this whole thing is to have a B2 level of French by the end of June. When I conceived of this plan last year I thought I might be able to even push C1, on the assumption that I would have done more preparation at home in the US, but oh well-- can't change that now. If I don't hit B2 I think I'll feel quite bad about my life choices, so that's as low as the bar is going to get. That still feels within reach as long as I manage to get a decent amount of exposure/study outside class.

In the meantime I want to be pushing A2 by the end of January-- probably not so crazy a goal, since I just blitzed through a DELF A2 listening comprehension section with 23/25. With luck I might be close to finishing the first half of FiA by then.
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rpg
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Sun Feb 16, 2020 11:15 pm

I have a lot of forum to catch up on reading and a lot of log to catch up on writing. But I wanted to quickly note this paper for future reference, since I don't have time to fully read it now:

Frantzen, D. (1995). Preterite/Imperfect Half-Truths: Problems with Spanish Textbook Rules for Usage. Hispania, 78(1), 145. doi:10.2307/345237 

presenting a deep dive into the preterite/imperfect contrast. Like all English-native learners, while many usages are straightforward this still remains a source of error for me overall in Spanish, and I've been making mistakes with it in French now as well (as an aside, I haven't determined definitively if the contrast is identical between Spanish and French or if they're different in some cases; certainly it seems very similar).
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Wed Feb 26, 2020 11:11 pm

Time to bring my log up to speed a bit... let's start with Mandarin.

I applied to the Princeton in Beijing summer program, and I got in! But... with the coronavirus, I'm not so certain that it'll happen this summer. During the SARS outbreak, they held the program on the Princeton campus, and I have a feeling the same is going to happen this year-- the coronavirus doesn't look like it's going away any time soon. Personally from what I've seen it seems likely that it'll become a global pandemic, and I'm not sure we'll actually be any better off in the USA versus China, but it's not my call. If it's held at Princeton I really don't know if I should do it or not. On the one hand, I do want to improve my Chinese, and doing this program would unlock future opportunities abroad, like ICLP. On the other hand, do I really want to spend two months in Princeton, when I could be in Paris an extra month and doing something else the other month? A lot of the appeal of the program was going to China and being immersed in life in Beijing. Tricky...

I went to Mundolingua here in Paris last week, and I picked up the new(ish) Assimil Le Chinois. I listened to the first dozen or so lessons and they seem pretty solid. I think I want to get up to speed on reviewing the Chinese I learned last summer (which I'm doing mostly during the breaks in my French classes every day) before I focus too intensely on this, but it's a good resource. I appreciate Assimil a lot as a resource-- progressive audio dialogues with transcripts. Perfect, and exactly how I want to learn a language. I've heard people say Assimil isn't good for Asian languages, but I think the format could work better for something like Chinese than for a heavily inflected (or, God forbid, agglutinative) language, where there are more forms that might not necessarily get their due in shorter dialogues.

With French, well, I've been in Paris for a month now! I'm taking classes at a school. They're for sure not as good as the Spanish classes I took in Latin America. In Lima, I had some really solid 1:1 classes for 4h/day, but that's just not that economically feasible here. I think my school is OK; it's hard to tell if I should try a different one (the others I've seen haven't caught my eye much) or stick with this one. I do think I need to change something up. I'd assess my French right now as A2 working towards B1; I just did the listening + reading parts of a past DELF A2 paper and got 47.5/50 so I think claiming A2 is pretty safe. I think I need to work a little harder on my French, though, if I want to hit B2 by June.

To that end I just signed up for Chatterbug's unlimited plan for the next month, hoping to do regular 1:1 sessions. I have mixed feelings about Chatterbug overall, but the structured 1:1 lessons interest me: my productive abilities are awful, and group classes aren't great for practicing. My other weaknesses are vocabulary and listening comprehension. Grammar is a relative strength, as it is for me in Spanish. So far in French the hardest part of using the subjunctive, for example, is not knowing that I should use it--my Spanish work has equipped me with good alarm bells--but rather knowing the present tense indicative conjugations of some verbs, to conjugate the subjunctive! I need more input, but of course input is a pain in the ass when you're only A2 since you still struggle with everything.

I haven't been doing any French in Action the past few weeks, but I'm trying to get back into that as well. I'm on Lesson 16 right now. I've already learned some of the things that I'm seeing in FiA at the moment in my classes, but I could certainly use more practice and reinforcement.
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Re: rpg learns Spanish, French, Mandarin

Postby rpg » Tue Mar 03, 2020 12:07 am

As a quick update, I just scheduled a lot of lessons on Chatterbug: for the rest of the week, I have 11 lessons scheduled. Each is 45m and 1:1, and the breakdown is 9 French lessons and 2 Spanish lessons. The Spanish ones I threw in there for times when I wanted a French lesson but couldn't find one available, but I need to do a little maintenance work with Spanish anyway-- my Spanish consumption has dropped to almost zero now that I'm in France, and when I try to speak Spanish to myself in the shower or whatnot I'm finding a lot of interference from French, even though my French is much worse!

My French group classes are abbreviated this upcoming month because there aren't enough students in the class, so they're only 3h/day (as they were for a lot of last month, actually). That's part of why I'm trying to supplement with Chatterbug; the other part is that I think I need more practice just speaking French, and I haven't been getting enough in my group classes so far, even with a small group (4-6). I'm not one who thinks that speaking practice is the be-all and end-all of language learning, but it's certainly necessary to some degree. Finally, I'm missing an absolute ton of vocabulary, and I like how Chatterbug's vocabulary flashcards are tied to their (admittedly sparse) other materials, like videos, reading exercises, and tutoring exercises.

At 12 lessons a week (my rough target, I think-- 2/weekday and 1/weekend day or something similar) that's 9h of additional instruction, which together with 15h/week of group classes (though it's really more like 13h/week because there's a break) gets me around 90-100h/month of instruction. That should help me make some good progress. My goal remains B2 by mid-June. As I think I said earlier, I think I'm between A2 and B1 right now-- I did just do this quick B1 listening comprehension exercise and got 10/10, so I can feel good about that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlmO9kasBc

What's missing? I think more input, both listening and reading. Both of them feel like a bit of suffering, since I'm still at a level where they're slow, hard work. So it goes...
3 x
Super challenge 2020/21
French reading: 88 / 5000      Spanish reading: 81 / 5000
French movies: 9 / 150       Spanish movies: 65 / 150


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