"En un agujero en el suelo, vivía un hobbit”
Did you ever get your report card and have to masterfully change some of those F’s to B’s on the bus ride home? I doubt that this has ever successfully fooled anyone, but this movie trope illustrates that report cards can be terrifying. They do, however, provide a useful piece of information: feedback. Without feedback, it is difficult to tell if learning is happening. Am I closer to mastery now than I was when I started?
Well, over a year ago I travelled to Mexico to visit my good friend Dave in Chiapas. I had worked my way through Duolingo and even did Rosetta Stone for a bit, so while I would not have considered myself fluent, I figured I could get by. This assumption was quickly smashed against the rocks of reality at Customs and I spent the remainder of the trip staring blankly at anyone who had the misfortune of attempting to speak to me.
The trip was still a blast, but I made a commitment to improve my Spanish over the next year. In the Spanish language section of Barnes & Noble I picked up a copy of El Hobbit by the legendary J.R.R. Tolkien. Maybe you’ve heard of it. I had been wanting to reread it for a while so why not try in Spanish. My goal was to read one page per day with a goal of finishing it within a year. At 283 pages, this seemed more than achievable.
Just last week I finally learned how the story ended (happily ever after), but I had no way of knowing if I actually improved my Spanish at all. There was no feedback.
There was one piece of information that I could leverage to my advantage, the number of words I translated per page. In an effort to actually retain some information I would write the translation of words or phrases I did not know over the words in the book. So I counted these up for each page. You can see the breakdown of the page totals sorted by chapter in the graph below. The average for that chapter is shown in red.
Overall the chapters had a statistically significant downward trend! I may have learned something after all. This works out to be about 2/5 of a word improvement per chapter on average, from an average of 20 words per page in chapter 1 to just under 12 words per page in chapter 19.
I am still far from being a fluent speaker. In fact this did not teach me anything about speaking Spanish. But at least I have a report card to show my parents.
P.S. When I told my dad about this he responded, “Son, you’re a huge nerd.” Thanks pops.