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https://www.duolingo.com/HunkyP

1 week in Ecuador/Peru/Chile/Uruguay/Argentina a few days after completing my Spanish tree: report

HunkyP
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Finished my Spanish tree here and then took off for a whirlwind South American vacation to Quito, Cusco. Lima, Santiago, Colonia, and Buenos Aires over the Thanksgiving week. This was "real world practice", to be sure. A couple of observations:

1) There was hardly anything I couldn't read, including signs, menus, instructions, legal warnings, bike rental contracts, and local newspapers. And I was really reading, not simply guessing at the general meaning and context. To do this really requires both vocabulary AND the various tenses and moods. But it was very liberating and useful.

2) I never had to write a complete sentence, so my writing skills weren't tested and they likely didn't improve.

3) My aural comprehension varied. A lot. Different speakers, different subjects/contexts, different urgencies--sometimes I could understand pretty well (though not nearly as well as reading, as comprehension was more of a "sense" and pulling words and roots out of dialogue and then trying to reconstruct the whole meaning) and sometimes I couldn't understand much of anything. Chile was especially challenging, as speakers tend to drop a lot of "s"'s out of their regular speech. This makes for a more French-like, beautiful and lyrical quality to the language, but it makes it very difficult to distinguish between words. This was also a challenge in Argentina, though less so.

4) I was disappointed in my speaking ability, which I deployed as though I was a level 4 Duolinguist with a handful of skills rather than a tree-completing level 15er. I spoke in words, not sentences. And I used tenses and moods other than the present indicative only when I had a chance to plan a sentence in advance. I experienced moments of greatness, but they were very rare. And unfortunately, very few of the phrases I type or speak on Duolingo ever happened to be spoken or heard in the real world of Latin America.

5) This sort of functional immersion is useful and effective, particularly because you must figure it out. If you don't, then no food, no bike, no ticket, no nada for you! So it provides very strong motivation. On the other hand, conversations like this need to get finished quickly (the passport agent has a line of people waiting after you!), so they provide almost no opportunity for feedback or for iterative learning. Most importantly, you don't build confidence very well because every conversation is with a new person. A conversational group or partner, either living/dating/working with someone or in a class or via Skype, is still important in addition to the functional practice that travel provides directly. This is my top priority now.

Bottom line: not only did I survive...I thrived. Even in places where no one spoke English (and I mean no English...in the upper Andes one woman had never even heard of a place called California), I was never completely unable to communicate. With more time and some more relaxed contexts, I'm certain that I would've made lightning progress consolidating my Duolingo learning into a usable level of fluency.

3 years ago

30 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Agent.Logic_

"And unfortunately, very few of the phrases I type or speak on Duolingo ever happened to be spoken or heard in the real world of Latin America."

Tu oso bebe cerveza.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HunkyP
HunkyP
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When someone is in possession of a drunk bear, it is prudent to show a great deal of respect. So in Uruguay I always said:

Su oso bebe cerveza.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mikereed100

As it happens, my bear does drink beer, but only IPA.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ZerausSeniram

JAAJA

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bdavidfuentes

In the real world you will hear "tu hermano/hermana/papa bebe cerveza" or "el oso es blanco" . the things you are learning in Duolingo are useful and effective, but you need to play and mix all the sentences that you have been learning.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MC5449
MC5449
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Verdad? :D

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Anastasia999

Yep, some sentences are REALLY stupid!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Thakelo
Thakelo
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Congratulations! It sounds like you had a blast! I'm sure that you saw beautiful landscapes as well. I hope that you can do this more often and keep finding immersion oportunities.

PS: I was fearing what you would say about the chilean accent and I am amused that you consider it beautiful and lyrical! That was unexpected! You're the first person I know that thinks like that :) Thank you. I love our intonation, but leaving letters out takes the magic away in my opinion. Sometimes when I'm alone I try speaking with a proper pronunciation and it just makes the perfect accent haha...

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HunkyP
HunkyP
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I got through the bicycle rental process and suggested cycling routes entirely in Chilean Spanish at La Bicicleta Verde, which was one of the trip's more complicated interactions. Then I shared a taxicab with a guy from Santiago on the way into Buenos Aires from the airport, and his dropped consonants really sounded smooth and, well, French. Same thing at the Santiago cafe, where at first I didn't recognize the word "macafe". But since I really did want more coffee, I figured it out. So I decided that someday I want to be able to speak like a Chilean, and drive all my Mexican-American friends crazy.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BraxtonOK96

Eres Chileno? Tengo mucho celos. Viajé ahí el verano pasado y era mi país favorito! Quiero ser Chileno, cachai? :(

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ZerausSeniram

Chile is a beautiful country, I went there a few years ago and want to go back (and I live in "the next door" country hahaha )

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/joshlindenmuth

Wait, you never had a chance to use gems such as "¿El oso sólo comer el pequeño pingüino?" Just kidding =). I laugh at a lot of the sentences so far, but wonder when I'd ever use them (I'm only 1/3-1/2 through the Spanish tree).

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HunkyP
HunkyP
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If there were anywhere in the world where I thought people might be talking about bears eating penguins, it would've been Chile and Argentina! But no such luck. At least in the big cities.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Emskipooo

Amazing to hear stories like this - you're living the dream!! Nice one :)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Inspired1982

Thanks a lot for sharing your experience and knowledge, it helps a lot and motivate us (specially a person like me, level 14 and didn't even finish half the tree : )

I have 2 question please;

1 - Did you have any Spanish background or knowledge before you start Duolingo? or you have started from scratch and that was your only source of Spanish? (As your accomplishment is really good to be honest)

2- Did you finish your tree all golden, or you just went through it and you were forgetting some or many of its context?

Many thanks once again and congratulations for the great achievement!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HunkyP
HunkyP
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Having finished the tree was indispensable for reading rental contracts, warnings, and other texts beyond a menu or a sign, but the trip also underscored how important sheer time-on-task really is. For speaking confidence and ease, finishing half the tree at level 17 might be better than finishing it completely at level 13. So I definitely wouldn't put off a true immersion opportunity if you get one before the tree is done.

Onto the questions:

1) I live in California and grew up in Los Angeles, so I've always been exposed to more Spanish words (places, street names, random phrases). Didn't study the language in high school or college, but took two one-week immersion courses in Mexico, the first time I wanted to learn it, about two decades ago. Those were great but that shotgun intensive format doesn't produce lasting results if you don't keep it up...which I didn't. Fast forward to Duolingo in August of this year, then I finished the tree in about 70 days, having placed in at about level 4 at the start. I've done two supplementary activities only: (1) I've been reading the second Percy Jackson series (teenager adventure books use adult grammar and words but the plots are easy to follow and the slang is more current) and am halfway through the third one and (2) I watched American movies dubbed in Spanish without subtitles (movies with uncomplicated plots and enough action so that my brain didn't have to process a second language uninterrupted for two hours, like X Men). I also did a daily does of Duolingo translations on a wide range of topics, including articles on the countries and cities that I would be visiting.

2) When I finished my tree, it wasn't golden. There were about 25 skills that had deteriorated. I used to week before the trip to refresh some of them, but they were deteriorating almost as fast as I could keep up. So I paid for wifi on the planes down to South America and banged out a dozen of them, and then another three or four each day of the trip (along with at least two or three strengthen skills sessions). So the tree was fully golden by the last few days of the trip. Doing Duolingo each morning and each night, and a little bit on metro rides and elsewhere, was super helpful on the trip. It also reminded me how much I knew, so that I would feel confident enough to try.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Inspired1982

Thank you so so much Hunky. I got your comment saved in my favorite file to help and inspire me in the future. It might take me longer to finish the tree, but the main thing for me is to truly become good in Spanish, and so your tools and emphasis are extremely helpful. Thanks for the time as well to share your positive experience and to help somebody you don't know - very positive : )

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/newbaconings
newbaconings
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If you want to challenge your ears in terms of accents, try watching some tv shows from different regions of Latin America/Spain. Sometimes the same shows are re-made and localized, which can help you spot the differences in accent and slang. I watched Pulseras Rojas in Castillian Spanish and am on Season 2 in Latin American Spanish. Its been very good training! (I don't reccomend watching the American English version from Fox. Its like Glee mated with Saved by the Bell. Awful!)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NickVaf

Yeah watching Latino shows and movies helps tremendously.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ilmarien
Ilmarien
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Sounds like it was a great weekend! Thank you for the story!

As for #4 - Do you practice speaking regularly? That isn't something that Duolingo can teach you, and it is so, so very difficult. Some days I can throw caution to the wind and just start talking with native speakers, and others I revert back to monosyllabisms. Heck, I was hanging out with a couple Spaniards yesterday afternoon and didn't manage to say anything more than "mucho gusto" to them (and potentially offend one by referring to the Valencian language as Catalan, oops), and I'm still kicking myself for that. But don't feel bad about it. I think half of speaking is mimicking - listening to what people are saying and how they're saying it and getting used to entire turns of phrasing instead of individual words.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ZacharyLFC

Awesome feedback! I Really liked reading your story. Interesting and insightful

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JackedTortoise

That is amazing! Congratulations on completing both the tree and your amazing trip! It is always quite motivating to hear stories like these!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheGrade

Great story! One red diamont for you, being able to read almost everything in Spanish is quiet cool. :-)Just started studying Spanish for about two weeks now and I'm understanding more and more Spanish while I read, and goes much faster than I expected. Hoped it would be the same with speaking...so that's a bit negative but i know fact is speaking harder than reading.

You will get- and are getting there!!! Good motivation.....maybe try the horizontal learning method with the locals next time to improve your speaking ability faster. Works in 8 out of 10 cases. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0I9PSSkB9I

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Leslie_Duo

¡Felicidades! I love this line: "not only did I survive...I thrived." Sounds like you had a fabulous trip! I have been maintaining/improving my Spanish w/ Duolingo for a few years now. I went to Peru in 2012, & I probably drove all my airplane & train seat-mates crazy - but I struck up conversations w/ every Spanish speaker I could find. It was enormously helpful & fun, even when I made mistakes (they never minded)! Thanks for the inspiring post & keep us up to date on your adventures! :)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wadeherndo

Thanks for sharing this.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Emmiegram

Thank you for sharing. That's a fascinating story of success in recognizing your strong and weak points, and what you need to work on. I love reading real life testimonials.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NeenaL.

Wow.......just wow!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dan-NYC
Dan-NYC
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Great analysis and what a great experience.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scottann

Congratulations and very inspiring for all of us aspiring Spanish speakers... I would like to go and do volunteer work in Ecuador, so I am trying to speak as much as I can before going. It is a bit daunting after completing my tree as a rank beginner of Spanish.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Stayinshape80

I'm thrilled for you. What a terrific motivator your sharing is. Thanks so much. Duo has helped me tremendously, but I still have trouble listening and speaking. Your report of so much more than survival made my day.

3 years ago