(Don’t mention the F-word)

Using flash cards to learn Argentinian Spanish

One book that has really focused my Spanish learning so far (and I strongly endorse for anyone who wishes to take up any new language) is Fluent Forever, by Gabriel Wyman. As well as the baby step guidance and empathetic words of encouragement that every foreign language novice needs, it has some great resources and hacks that I continue to use every day – none more so than my magic flashcards.

I would firstly like to take this opportunity, though, to dispel the myth that living in a new country automatically means you will develop a fluent tongue within 6 months. Sorry, but nonsense. This is the chip I carry around on my shoulder each day, but I refuse to let it weigh me down.

Indeed, my first few weeks at work were punctuated by me constantly burrowing into my dictionary to look up words when reading emails, PDFs and various websites just to do my job. I have a ‘Palabras’ document on my desktop which I was frequently adding new words to. As I would have hoped, the level of this frequency has decelerated massively as time has passed which is progress.

Today proved a landmark day in fact, as I made my first phone call in unassisted albeit stilted Spanish. Thankfully the IT technician at the other end of the line was very patient with me, but I was still proud of myself to do this within my first two months of work. He understood enough to resolve the problem for me too, no thanks to my wild gesticulations in vain. This was much to the amusement of my colleagues who, since the turn of the year, don’t address me in English any more. A bit daunting but a necessary evil as this is what I always wanted, to be thrown in at the deep end so that I learn.

Recently, in my lunch breaks and weekends, I have been finishing off the latest batch of flash cards. Many of these are taken from my own ad hoc list, ‘Palabras’. Additional to this list though, Fluent Forever helpfully indexes in English the general 625 most common words of any language. I surveyed this thoroughly from A to Z, taking note of any words that I couldn’t instantly recall. The output of this joint venture is more than 250 double-sided papelitos, complete with scrawled illustrations and fill-in-the-blanks sentences. These are all colour-coded and signposted with phonetic transcriptions, including stresses and uvular trills. I just need to learn them now!

Having sourced a new teacher online via Italki (another resource suggested in Fluent Forever) at one third of the price of my other teacher, on Monday our first lesson centred on the Spanish subjunctive mood. English native speakers find this particularly hard because it’s seldom used in our language at all. Yet it is almost ubiquitous here – with the Argentinians being such deep thinkers – to express desires and wishes, doubts and conjectures, and possibilities in general.

A bespoke fit to the culture in which it is spoken, the subjunctive perfectly demonstrates the intricacies of acquiring a new language and will take time for me to master. Even then, this will doubtless be way ahead of when I can claim to hold the mythical status of ‘fluency’. This ingloriously vague term is a subjective one that holds many expats back, as it is immeasurable and therefore unattainable. Unsurprisingly, merely the idea of it can be demotivating, and so is probably best ignored.

One day, I’m told, with enough perseverance there will be light at the end of this seemingly interminable dark tunnel, a flash perhaps. In the meantime however, whatever you do, just don’t mention the F-word.

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