Newsletter – What I’m learning about acquisition from my own language learning

Update & Lessons from my own language acquisition journey with Spanish –  19 Oct 2019


As of today, I have 637 hours of Spanish input under my belt. (My goal – 10,000 hours to fluency)

How do I measure the hours?  When I started back on June 15, 2018, I invested on average an hour a day watching videos and listening to podcasts. A LOT of Spanish went over my head.

By 1 April 2019, we had moved and I no longer taught French in a classroom but was at home with more discretionary time.  I increased my investment in my Spanish project to on average 1.5 hours a day. Then in August, I realized I was actually spending at least 2 hours a day, if you count occasional conversations with some hispanics, reading, and also writing my thanksgivings to God each morning in Spanish.

Now, I am up to 2.5 hours a day.  It’s not that hard, especially since I love podcasts and listen when I’m working out, driving or doing household chores.

My speaking still feels messy, awkward and uncomfortable.  But my comprehension FEELS like it has skyrocketed. Especially when people speak slowly. And I am enjoying reading simple books, my Bible and transcripts of podcasts.

Following someone’s suggestion, I have my computer and my iPhone configured to Spanish. That means Amazon, Google, my bank etc are in Spanish. (I did have Alexa’s language switched to Spanish, but Mike didn’t like that and I switched it back).

Startling insight about error correction:

It doesn’t work!!  It doesn’t make a lasting difference.

And to think of all the years that I corrected students, in speaking or in writing.  

Gradually, as I gained experience with CI, I did less written error correction.  Only in my final 2 years in the classroom, did I make it my GOAL to ELIMINATE on-the-spot speaking corrections in my students.

A self-experiment on me with a conscious left-brain activity:  

I believe WHOLE-heartedly, unreservedly in the principle of ‘picking up’ a language. I call it ‘Mommy Talk’. It’s natural and uncontrived.  After all, little kids can speak fluently by the time they turn 4. They have listened, watched and picked up their mother tongue without working at it.  Why? Simply because they have been awake, receiving stimulation for 14,000+ hours over 4 years.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the most effective way to acquire a language, that of CI, comprehensible input (listening with the goal of understanding the message), I decided to experiment on myself and try something very left-brain and UN-CI. 

What did I try? Something that my friend Alice Ayel wrote about.  Alice Ayel teaches French to many students all over the world using CI (go to the link in her name and view her free videos as well as see what her membership can offer you). She posted a link to a video in a newsletter about conscious vocab work, called Gold Listing.  I was intrigued and decided to experiment on myself.

What’s my conclusion, so far?

It’s this:  I think that when the brain’s attention is brought to bear on something, it locks on to that SOMETHING in a way it never did before.  I have experienced this with car makes.  

I don’t notice cars.  One year, Mike announced: “I think our next car is going to be a Saab.”  I didn’t know a Saab from a Mercury from a Toyota! So, I asked him to point one out to me.  From then on, what my brain had previously ignored, it now ‘let in’. This new sensory perception of a Saab was now on the Welcome List as far as my brain was concerned. Suddenly, I saw Saabs everywhere. They had always been present, but hadn’t been ‘necessary’ to me, as evaluated by my brain!

The same thing is happening with Spanish words and phrases that I’ve written several times.  I now notice them in the podcasts I listen to, or materials I watch and read.

My advice?

If you only have a limited amount of time, go CI.  If you WANT to play around with the language and add some left-brain exercise, then this might be a fun way for you to expand your vocabulary, at least passively.

What about you? Do you add some conscious learning in your own language acquisition process or in your classroom?

Let me know.

Your language buddy,




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