Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Weird things I've learned about my brain while trying to learn Spanish

So I've been mildly amused to discover completely random things about how my brain functions as a result of going so completely out of my comfort zone to try and learn Spanish.

The first is that I *really* struggle to focus on audio alone.  So listening to a track of people speaking - very hard for me to tune in more than a few seconds.  Listening to that exact same track if I can see the talking heads?  No problem.  For language learning, that kinda makes sense, but it struck me that it explains why I can't handle podcasts (in English I mean) - even ones that I'm theoretically fascinated by the topic and very much *want* to enjoy.  Can't do it.   Same with audio books.  And both I've tried SO many times because of the amount of my life spent driving.   

The related piece is if somebody reads something to me in English that they have written and want my opinion on (eg positioning, writing, etc) I will 100% of the time tell them to just let me read it.  Which is safer anyways since native speakers, esp if they were also the author of the document, will often subconsciously correct errors as they speak.  But - that was never the primary driver, the primary driver was that I could offer a high level opinion for sure, but I couldn't say with any confidence that the specific details were right unless I read it to myself - again, even if I am actively listening and care passionately about the subject.   Whereas a couple people I work closely with, I would guess are the opposite.  Because if they give me something they think is solid and I read it back to them, they can usually hear the issue, but they generally won't see it.

Then on a slightly different note, which may or may not be related, is that in Spanish, I can read words aloud OR I can read for comprehension.  But not both.  I realised this *very* early, because one of the recommended learning techniques is to read aloud because of the connection it makes in your brain between sounds and words.   Which is good in itself, but I also need a connection between words and meanings lol.   I realise logically this makes sense in a new language because I still have to think about the process of saying the word - so the mental power that would be aligned to translating is used up by speaking.   

Now - follow me down this rabbit hole that I fell into literally as I was writing this.   

So as a test, I - just now - picked up the closest book (in English) at hand and randomly opened to a page past the bookmark.  This particular book is a collection of short stories, so makes it even more valid as there's no context from one to the next.  All good.  And, as expected, no problem to read aloud AND understand.

Except - I realised what I'm *actually* doing is reading silently several words ahead of what I'm saying.  So I've already read and understood before I'm ever vocalising.  In Spanish, I can't read and understand fast enough for that technique to be effective.   

So then I tried another document in English and covered it up and only uncovered each word at a time as I read it (side note - this is remarkably hard to do for people who read ridiculously fast - I had to literally uncover one letter at a time to slow it down enough to get the word aloud before my brain read it silently).   And what I found was I absolutely CAN read aloud and understand the word at the same time (*phew* - that should NOT have been as much of a question mark as I'd momentarily feared); HOWEVER, doing it one word at a time makes me lose the flow of the sentence.  So I definitely get what each word means, but if it's adult-level writing, I have to pause and put together what the sentence means (literally a fraction of a second - but it doesn't happen at all if I can read ahead).  This has now clarified why when we had to read aloud in class in grade school I would count forward the number of students to pre-read "my" piece before I had to read it aloud.  Here I always just thought I was shy and hated public speaking.  I also am very aware I am not the only one who did this ;)

So then, going back to Spanish, I wondered what would happen if I *could* read ahead and translate (or literally not need to translate, just *know* what the word meant) effectively enough that I could APPEAR to read aloud and understand at the same time.  How to test that?  Well - clearly I needed easier material.  šŸ˜‚ I googled "A1 Spanish Story Sample" and the first site I clicked on gave me perfect material (   Squirrel Note: A1 from the CEFR language skills scale  is the barely above the level of Spanish you absorb if you walk past a Spanish-speaking person.  lol.  It is the "See Spot Run" level.  So it turns out, when the text is easy enough, I do in Spanish *exactly* what I do in English and it works just fine thankyouverymuch.   So theoretically, some day, I should be able to read aloud and understand in Spanish exactly as I do in English.  Although why on Earth I'd ever want to, I have absolutely no idea ;). 

So that's my completely random story.  I'm somewhat shocked you're still reading this lol.   Oh - one more!   The other thing I discovered, when reading aoud in English, I'd either forget to keep speaking and switch to the voice in my head narrating (which for me is not QUITE the same as reading silently, but is also not actually aloud - it's more my editing voice) OR I found myself zoning out the same way I do in podcasts.  I was reading it myself but the rhythm of the speech made the words mean nothing after the first few seconds.  Wild.  I have no idea what that's about and I can't imagine any single instance it would ever matter.   But it amused me to realise it.  

And - just now, looking for an image to support this post.  OMG the amount of stuff written about reading aloud.   Apparently I'm not the only one who finds it mildly interesting.  Although the vast majority seem to think reading out loud is a great thing to do.  This one, in particular, made me laugh: "Reading out loud is a better method if you are reading for higher comprehension" lol hard no on that for me - in any language! 

I would also like to add that this post was all silliness that evolved before writing the post that I actually turned on the computer to write.   But I feel like going to bed is probably a good life choice, so that can wait for another day ;)

I'll stop now ;). Night!


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