Welcome back, dear readers!  I’ve been inactive on this blog for so long that I’m sure many of you have forgotten who I am!  I’m the somewhat lazy, mostly enthusiastic learner of Spanish who writes the odd blog post about it.  Remember me now?

Today I sit in front of my computer as a failing learner of Spanish as I’ve hardly done a thing this entire year.  I can use the excuse that I’ve been travelling around Europe for most of the year, but when all is said and done, I’ve had plenty of opportunity and lots of time in which to learn a lot of Spanish, but I didn’t.  The short version is that I didn’t feel like it;  I needed a break.  After two years of grammar and speaking practice and writing and thinking about stuff, I just didn’t want to do it anymore and so I didn’t.

The other, bigger, reason for my lack of progress this year is because I’m sort of lost in the vastness of the Intermediate Plateau and, like most people, I’m finding it difficult to progress past it.  The Intermediate Plateau is that seemingly neverending stretch of land we reach when we know enough of a language in order to speak to people, read the stuff we need to read and basically get around without too much difficulty.  We’re not beginners anymore, but we’re most definitely not at an advanced level.  The problem with being on this plateau is that it’s easy to become comfortable with things, especially after the initial hard graft of going from absolute beginner to intermediate level.  It’s tempting to take a little break and that, my friends, is so often the beginning of the end for us.  It’s a dangerous and slippery slope from ‘taking a little break’ to becoming that person who started to learn Spanish 10 years ago but gave it up in the end.  I don’t want to be that person.  I want to be the person who took a little break and then put her big girl panties back on and started working again.

Last week I watched the movie, Julie and Julia, again.  It’s about a young woman who takes on a one year cooking challenge and blogs about it and I decided to do the same.  Perhaps if I set a goal that I need to achieve within a year and make a public announcement about it (i.e. blab about it on Facebook) then just maybe I’ll apply enough pressure on myself to get it done.  Let’s be honest, it’s easier to spend a Sunday afternoon on the couch when there’s no homework waiting to be done by Monday.

Some of you may want to take up the challenge with me!  If, at the end of this post, you decide you want to do this challenge with me then definitely contact me and we’ll keep in touch.

I haven’t given the challenge a whole lot of thought because the idea only came to me on Monday and this is partly the reason for writing this post – to structure the challenge and to lay it down in writing.

As always, I’m going to structure The Challenge in the form of a SMART goal so it has to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

The Challenge:  to write, and pass, the DELE level B2 exam before the end of November 2019. 

DELE exams are official qualifications administered by the Spanish government via the Cervantes Institute and they are widely recognised as proof of language proficiency throughout Europe.  There are six different levels:  A1 and A2 (beginner), B1 and B2 (intermediate) and C1 and C2 (advanced).  These exams can be written and accredited centres in most countries in the world, so if you’re interested in joining me on this journey, then Google will help you find your nearest exam centre.  Remember, you don’t have to write the same exam level as me, you can tailor make your own plan.

I’ve never before written a DELE exam and I don’t need the qualification for any particular purpose, but I’ve decided that the B2 exam gives me a concrete goal at which to aim.

So, let me begin to give my SMART goal some structure:

1.  It has to be Specific

My goal is to write, and pass, the DELE level B2 exam before 31 December 2019.

2.  It has to be Measurable

It’s an exam, everything about it will be measured.  This is partly why I chose it as a goal;  I will either pass or fail and either way I’ll know where I stand.

3.  It has to be Achievable

I tend to set goals for myself that are super difficult to achieve and it sometimes backfires on me because it’s so unrealistic that I give up before I even really give it a shot.  I really do want to progress with my Spanish so I decided that this time I’ll set my sights a bit lower and give myself every possible opportunity for success.  I was initially tempted to try for DELE level C1, but the time and effort commitments that this would require are just a step too far for me.  So B2 it is and that will suit me fine.

4.  It has to be Relevant

My current Spanish goal is to read 10 Spanish language novels before the end of this year.  I love reading and I’m enjoying this exercise A LOT, but it’s only serving to improve my vocabulary and reading comprehension.  I still bumble along with my creative grammar usage when I talk and when Spanish people talk at their usual eye-watering speed, I still can’t understand much of it.  So, as much as I’m enjoying myself, this goal is not relevant with regard to improving my overall Spanish ability.

A DELE exam consists of four parts:  reading, writing, speaking and listening.  This means that, in order to pass this exam, I need to spend this next year practicing all four elements of the language and therefore it’s 100% compatible with my requirements.  Sitting in the sunroom reading murder mysteries will not cut the mustard anymore.

5.  It has to be Time Bound

The deadline for achieving my goal is 31 December 2019.

There it is, the goal as been set.  All I have to do now is plan how to achieve this goal.  Obviously, I need to study a whole lot of Spanish between now and the day of the exam so I need to decide what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it.  I’ve never particularly liked studying (who does?!) so I try to structure things in such a way that it doesn’t feel like I’m studying.  I look for things I enjoy doing and then I try to manoeuvre them into my routine so that I learn what I need to learn without actually sitting at my desk and doing hours and hours of conjugations and stuff because that ain’t never going to be done by me.

So, what do I like?
I like to read.
I like to do writing exercises.
I like to practice conversation.
I don’t like to go to Spanish lessons anymore, but I did like my private Skype lessons with my iTalki teacher and I’ll continue with those now that I’m not traveling so much anymore.
I like to watch TV.

What don’t I like?
I don’t like to work through ‘Spanish for foreigners’ type language books and most definitely not those horrid things that come with 10 CDs.
No thank you to flashcards.  They’re wonderful tools and I highly recommend them, but I don’t like them myself.
I really don’t like grammar exercises.  I really and truly don’t.
I hate, loathe and despise role-play exercises.

I’ll be studying on my own so I’ll have the flexibility to study how I like, when I like, but I do still need a plan of action to make sure I stay on track.  It should also give me an opportunity to work my way through some of my collection of Spanish study aids…

Here are the books I’m going to use:
Section 1

Preparatión al DELE B2.    Click here to view on Amazon
Preparación al DELE B2 – Libro de claves.     Click here to view on Amazon
Translation Booklet: Habla inglés con fluidez by Richard Vaughan     Click here to view on Amazon
Gramática de uso del Español. B1-B2: Teoría y práctica con solucionario.     Click here to view on Amazon
La Sombra De La Sirena by Camilla Läckberg     Click here to view on Amazon

(I don’t earn a commission if you buy any of these books from Amazon so this is not a sales pitch.)

The DELE B2 preparation book has 7 mock exams and I’ll use it to prepare me to cope with the structure and duration of the exam.  I trust it will also highlight those areas where I need to do more work.  Yes, it comes with two CDs but they are only used for the listening exercises.  There is a listening comprehension component to each DELE exam so the CDs only contain the audio track I need to listen to during each of the 7 exams.  There’s none of this nonsense:  ‘Hola.  Hoollaa.  Hola.  Now repeat after me.  Hola.’
Take note that this book does NOT give the answers at the back so don’t forget to buy the answer booklet (Libro de claves).

I was standing in the payment queue at my local electronics store about 2 years ago (!!) when I spotted the Translation Booklet sitting on a nearby shelf.  It contains 6000 Spanish sentences on the left-hand side of the page and their English translations on the right.  The book is aimed at Spanish speakers who are learning English, but the translations work perfectly well when I use them in reverse, from English to Spanish.  Each double page contains 25 sentences, which means that it’s arranged into nice bite-sized groups.  I love doing the translations and they’re incredibly valuable practice, but to my shame, I’ve only completed 19 of the 240 groups.  Things are about to change (she says, confidently).

My friend Evelyn gave me a copy of Gramática de uso del Español for Christmas last year because I admired her copy.  It’s the sort of grammar book I can cope with because it keeps things short and sweet.  Instead of 250 pages of blah, blah, blah it contains 116 exercises.  Each double page covers a different topic and there are lots of exercises, interspersed with short descriptions here and there.  It’s an incredible book and I won’t tell you how many of the exercises I’ve completed as I’ll only embarrass myself and Evelyn is likely to read this post…

Last year I wrote a post titled ‘Why you should start reading a book in Spanish and how it will change your life‘.  In it I described the experience of reading my first ever full-length novel in Spanish.  Since then things have taken off and I’m now busy reading my seventh book in Spanish – La Sombra De La Sirena by Camilla Läckberg.  The book was originally written in Swedish but I like this author’s books and the Spanish is at a level that I can understand it quite easily and I can now read her books almost entirely without needing a dictionary.  This is the 4th of her books that I’m reading and I have another 2 lined up.

Now I have my books lined up and I think that they cover the areas of grammar, reading and writing well enough.  I now need to look at ways to improve my listening and speaking ability and for that I’m turning to TV.  I’m not much of a movie goer, but I do like to watch TV and pretty much the only programmes I watch are murders and rugby.  It’s tricky for me to watch either of these in Spanish because, even if I could find Spanish rugby coverage, the commentators would be talking WAY too fast for me.  Murders are also difficult because one has to understand the language pretty well in order to keep up with all the clues and evidence technical forensic reports.  It requires very intense listening and understanding and right now, it’s just a step too far for me.

I’ve found a happy medium, though.  Travel programmes and those programmes where they help people find a house or something.  One of the Freeview TV channels here in Spain is called BeMadTV and it has a lot of travel programmes.  If the programme is visiting Amsterdam today then I can watch with as much, or as little, attention as I wish because it doesn’t matter at all if I miss words or entire sentences here and there.  If I miss something then I simply pick up the commentary a few sentences down the line and it doesn’t matter, I haven’t literally lost the plot of the murder mystery.  On this channel, there’s a programme called ‘Mini casas sobre ruedas’ – Small houses on wheels.  It’s an American programme that’s been dubbed into Spanish and I’m enjoying it tremendously.  Each programme deals with a person or a couple who wants to buy a… you’ve guessed it… small house on wheels.  You can laugh, but since I started watching it I now know words like countertop, loft space, trap door and other random words you think you don’t need to know until the day you wish you knew them.  So there.

Very technically inclined people will tell me that lying on the couch watching TV is too passive and I won’t learn much, I should be watching stuff on my computer and taking notes and being actively engaged in the listening process.  I honestly can’t be bothered with all that.  Under the blanket on the couch, and maybe even nodding off here and there, is as good as it’s going to get and it works well enough for me.

As for speaking practice, I need a teacher, but I don’t want to take any more lessons right now so I’ll leave it for later.  I’ll write about it when it happens.

All I have to do now is to get my study routine worked out and then I have to write about my progress at least once a week.  I say once a week, but we all know it’s not going to be that often unless I make it part of the challenge and thereby oblige myself to do it.  We’ll see…

So there you have it, folks.  I’ve started a challenge.  By the end of the week I’ll have my routine laid out and by next Monday I’ll once again be a student.  I’m rather looking forward to it and I’ll keep you updated.  Until then, hasta luego and let me know if you want to join me and start a challenge of your own!