Two and a half years ago, when I finally visited my friend Alejandro in Peru, I decided to travel around in the area and learn some spanish for that purpose. For three months I would study at least an hour a day and by the time I made it to Latin-America, my spanish skills were such that I could survive in Bolivia where almost nobody speaks any english. But I was far from being able to hold a conversation. In Peru, when Alejandro was working, his (non-english speaking) mother was showing me around in Lima and having long conversations with me. Then, realizing that I did not understand almost anything, she tried once again, more slowly this time. This did help a bit.:)
After my trip I did not study for a month but then thought that it would be a shame to lose even that little level I had. Thus I decided to continue learning until I could speak at the level of “no return”, i.e. at level that I would not lose even if I discontinue my studies.
Fast forward 2 years and there I am. I was just granted a diploma of B2 proficiency in Spanish by Institute of Cervantes.
B2: Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
This was not an easy road. During the last two years I’ve spent some 500+ hours in learning the language, reading books, practicing grammar, listening to spanish songs, watching movies and using every opportunity to practice talking. Whenever I met somebody speaking spanish, I would start a conversation (luckily, unlike estonians, spaniards are pretty sociable). Without much effort I can remind myself of 8 occurrences right now, but there were probably more.
Half a year ago I learned that there would be DELE (Diplomas de Espanol como Lengua Extranjera) exam at the end of May and I registered. I did not have much time to study thus only the last month pretty much all of my free time would go to preparing for the exam. With time constraints, I concentrated on grammar, my weakest part by far.
It turned out to be the right choice. I passed the grammar part of the exam with no margin, whereas in other two parts (reading/understanding and speaking/listening) the margin was pretty comfortable. Thus, I’m proud to say that I’m now B2 level certified in Spanish. A certificate I’m quite unlikely to need in my life but it is kind of an inner reward for myself, for all the time I’ve put into studying the language.
For the people who want to learn a new language, I have one very important suggestion: be prepared to invest a lot of time. If all you can do is attend an hour long language classes twice per week, then forget about it. To learn a language, you have to be prepared to put in at least 5-6 hours per week. You learn, then you repeat, then you repeat and then you repeat once more. And once more. Only this way you can learn the language. If you are ready to do that, then go for it! It is an amazing experience when you discover that you suddenly understand what those foreign songs you listen are all about or that you see translation errors in the subtitles when you watch a movie. And there’s also the added benefit of enjoying your travels much more when you can communicate with local people in their language. I can’t wait when I have time to visit Alejandro again. Then I’d learn what was that his mother was trying to tell me in the first place. 🙂