21 Feb

Reading Harry Potter in Spanish

Canny readers may have noticed a few mentions of Harry Potter on the list of books I read in 2016. Last year, I made it my goal to read the entire Harry Potter series in Spanish. Here I describe why I did it, my methods, and what I got from this exercise.

The Why

Harry Potter is a popular choice for language learners because it’s a popular work generally. It’s translated into a huge number of languages and it’s relatively easy to find. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of popularity. It also, ostensibly, starts with simple language that gets more difficult throughout each book. I liked the idea of reading something that would build up and having a series that I could focus on. It seemed like it would be easier to start building fluency with a lot of young adult works by one author than with many unconnected books.

Aside from the series’ ubiquity, I chose Harry Potter because I had not read it all. My family was an early adopter of the books. I think we got the first novel when I was, perhaps, 13 (for reference, the last book was published in 2007, when I was 21). My sister was the target age for the story. I was just old enough to still be entertained, but not enthralled. I read through the fifth book (of seven) as an adolescent, but never read the last two. Working the release night of book six at Barnes and Noble resulted in me being fully fed up with the Potter phenomenon. But, nearly 10 years later, I was ready to revisit the story.

The How

I knew that reading Harry Potter in Spanish would be an undertaking in vocabulary. When I started reading it, I was using Anki for flashcards. As I read, I looked up words and wrote down the word and the definition in a steno notebook. This is a method I had used in the past and I liked it well enough. After reading, I added the vocabulary to my Anki flashcard deck.

Sometime in the middle of Harry Potter y el prisoner de Azkaban (book 3), I decided to change it up. Looking up words was making the reading too slow—and I was already reading slower than I wanted (the problem with reading fast in English is that it feels terrible to go so slowly in another language). I decided to try underlining words to look up later, which hadn’t occurred to me until I saw it mentioned in Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words. This was a great choice for me because it made me focus on reading without stopping and on decoding meaning based on context. I don’t think it would have gone well for me to read the first book this way, but it was right by the time I was in the third.

I switched flashcard platforms partway through reading as well. On the recommendation of my Icelandic tutor, I began using Memrise. I decided I liked Memrise better so I made a “Harry Potter Spanish” course and started adding new words. I learned a lot of words this way. Unfortunately, I was taking down more vocabulary than I could learn. My vocabulary study was perpetually eight or more chapters behind my reading. It’s not the worst thing, but it would have been nice to keep pace.

All 7 Harry Potter books stacked

My pile of Harry Potter books

About halfway through Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte (book 7), I declared lexical bankruptcy. I stopped underlining words to look up later. I hadn’t added any new words to my course since chapter 13 of Harry Potter and the misterio del príncipe (book 6). That said, I had about 2,000 words total in my Memrise course. Plus, I picked up some words and phrases that I didn’t formally study. Although I like learning new vocabulary and there was certainly more I could have learned, I was losing interest in the world of Harry Potter and decided to focus on reading instead of vocabulary for the last leg of the journey.

The Benefits

This seems like a good time for a bulleted list:

  • I learned a lot of vocabulary words.
  • I became familiar with a lot of phrases and bits of common usage. For example, you don’t “shake your head” in Spanish, you negas con la cabeza (literally: refuse with the head).
  • I started reading a lot more smoothly.
  • I accepted the fact that I do not and cannot know all words (which is also true in English!)
  • I read a lot faster now.
  • I can proudly say I read thousands of pages’ worth of writing in Spanish.
  • I am a much more confident reader.

Now What?

I’ve already started my next book in Spanish, La Distancia Entre Nosotros (The Distance Between Us). It seems much easier to read. In some ways, the subject matter is easier because it’s less fanciful. On the other hand, this is a book written for adults. I’m glad that I read Harry Potter, but I am really glad to be onto another book. My enthusiasm was seriously waning towards the end. In my goals for 2017, I said that I wanted to read 6 books in Spanish this year. At this rate, I’ll be able to get through more than that, which is really cool!

One question I have been asked is whether I would do this again. I am learning Icelandic too and Harry Potter in Icelandic is a real thing. At this point, I am not sure. I definitely got a lot out of reading the series in Spanish, but part of the motivation was also that I had not read all the books before. I might be inclined to read books originally written in Icelandic and that are a little more interesting to me (also good arguments for not reading Harry Potter in Spanish, for that matter). I’m at least a year out from being at a level where I would attempt Harry Potter in Icelandic. I need some time and distance before I could say for sure whether this is something I would do again. For now, I’m enjoying the benefits of being a stronger reader in Spanish.

01 Jan

2017: What Am I Doing?

It turns out that I blogged not at all this year. I was too busy doing everything else. Even though everyone around me was asking “Is 2016 the worst year ever?” I, personally, had a really good year. I got a promotion at work and then got a new job after that, which is remote and pays a lot more. I played a lot of roller derby and I made a lot of progress in my studies.

Languages

I said last year I was trying to write more in both Spanish and Icelandic. I did some writing in Spanish, but not much. In Icelandic, I did a moderate amount, mostly guided by my tutor.

This year I’m going to keep working with my Icelandic tutor. I started taking lessons in May and it’s helped me immensely. I reached a point with my studying in the spring when I decided I just wasn’t able to work the language out without direction and feedback. In addition to taking lessons, my goals is to read one book in Icelandic. I bought a short, young adult novel a few months ago. It seems like something I can reasonably read.

I wanted to get through the Harry Potter series in Spanish this year. I got close. I’m about 100 pages into the last book now. I spent a lot of time reading and learning vocabulary from what I read. I didn’t do much more than that, but I think it was a good use of my time. I’m reading much more fluently than when I started and I’ve learned a lot of vocabulary. This year, I’m going to keep reading (I already have a little stack of books in Spanish to read next), but I also want to focus on language production. I intend to write more, definitely. It’s easy to find people to look over Spanish writing. I also want to find a tutor. I think the targeted practice and feedback will make a difference as I push towards fluency.

The other thing I started doing this year that helped immensely was keeping language notebooks. In the past, I had notebooks full of words, but this year I tried something new. Each week, I write down what my goals are for the language. On the facing page, I write down new vocabulary, grammar notes, or other things I learn. This helps me stay focused week to week and gives me a record of what I have done.

Derby and Fitness

Derby was a big part of my life this year, both on and off the track. I took on some jobs with our league and I started announcing at bouts! I was hoping to make the Bruisers this year, but that didn’t happen. In the last quarter of 2016, I did make our new C team, however, and I got to play my first bout. I am a much stronger skater and player than I was a year ago, so I feel confident that I’ll make the B team this year.

My fitness/derby goals for the year:

  • Build endurance, particularly on skates but also off.
  • Improve my agility especially in regards to quick footwork and lateral movement.
  • Announce at WFTDA playoffs.
  • Make fitness an everyday habit. I’ve started doing this since I’ve been working from home the last two weeks, but I want to make sure I’m building exercise into my day, not just focusing on going to the gym as exercise.

Everything Else

I have a lot of other goals. There are so many things I want to do.

  • Cooking: I am going to try two new recipes per month. I have some new cookbooks and I have been thinking about expanding and making some different foods. This will be fun for me.
  • Reading: Read at least 52 books and work through the backlog of books that I have (i.e., don’t buy so many books until I read what I’ve already got). I also want to read at least 6 books in Spanish this year and 1 in Icelandic.
  • Hiking and camping: My boyfriend and I got an America the Beautiful pass for Christmas. We made a point of going hiking more often last year, but this year I want to do more, especially since we have the pass. We also got a camping stove so I am looking forward to more camping and cooking.
  • Staying informed and active: I started paying for news and sharing things people can do to be politically active. This year my goal is to take political action (calling representatives, writing letters, etc) at least weekly and read some news every day so I know what is going on.
  • Relaxing: I am not always great at stopping what I’m doing and letting myself rest. I have so much I want to do that it seems like relaxation doesn’t help, but of course it

Here’s to 2017!

27 Dec

2016: The Year Ahead

As is my end-of-year custom, I am looking at whether I met my goals for 2015 and considering goals for 2016. I like to set goals for the year because they seem more tangible to me than resolutions. Plus, New Year’s resolutions are just goals you plan to give up on by Valentine’s Day.

For 2015, my goals were to read a lot, keep going to the gym, learn Icelandic and maybe start roller derby. And that’s pretty much what I did this year. I’ve read 70 books so far this year (I’m going to post my annual book list this week). I went to the gym pretty consistently and tried a few different workout programs. Of course, the most interesting things this year have been Icelandic and derby. It took me a while to find my groove with the Icelandic, but I’m almost done with a low-intermediate course. I have learned quite a lot. As for derby, it’s already taken over my life. I did rec league in April and May, and moved up to the birds in the summer. Today I actually skated my first scrimmage outside of my home league. My team won and I even scored a few points.

Okay, so, what’s up for 2016:

Languages

I plan to keep learning Icelandic because I am enjoying it. I’m nearly done with the second of five online courses offered by the University of Iceland. I want to finish the first four courses and get to a level where I can start reading the news by the end of the year.

I’ve also decided to get my Spanish to the next level. I am okay at Spanish, definitely not fluent, but I read news and do alright. I want to push myself for fluency in Spanish. I think the main thing that I need is more exposure to different types of language. I decided to read the Harry Potter series in Spanish and go from there. After I get comfortable reading some middle-grade books, I should be able to get into more interesting novels. After that, it’s not even work.

For both languages, I am going to practice writing more. I made an account on Lang-8, a site where native speakers correct the writing of people learning their language. My goal is to write once per week.

Derby and Fitness

Probably the most important part of 2015 was starting roller derby. I think it’s great and I find it exciting. My goal for this year is to make it onto Sac City’s B team, the Folsom Prison Bruisers. We’re having team tryouts in January. It would be great to move up early in the year, but I hope to at least make it onto the Bruisers by the middle of the year.

In terms of fitness more generally, I want to work on heavy lifting. After I started derby, I stopped lifting as often. Last month, I started the 5×5 Stronglifts program and I think I’m going to stick with that for a while. My goal is to squat my bodyweight (which is currently about 285. I can squat a little over 200).

Reading, Writing, and Everything Else

I am, of course, setting a reading goal again. My minimum goal is 52 books. I would like to get to 100, but it’s hard when I do so many things with my time. In truth, my goal is to read more books than I did in 2015.

This year I am also setting a writing goal. I have been thinking a lot about maybe writing some short stories or a novel, but that is not going to materialize on its own. My goal is to write 500 words/day.

I also want to waste less time on the internet. This has been an unofficial goal for a while, but I’m putting it in writing this time. It’s too easy to idly browse the internet when I could be reading or doing literally anything else.

This is honestly a lot of goals. I think most of it’s possible, but I do have a tendency to try to do everything and stress myself out when I can’t do everything. So, I suppose my last goal for 2016 is to learn when to relax and let things go. We’ll see.

08 Jan

2015: The Year Ahead

This post is a little bit late becuase it took me a while to figure out just what I wanted to say about the upcoming year. I feel like I accomplised a lot in 2014. I didn’t exactly accomplish all of my goals for last year, but I definitely did more than in years past. So, for 2015, my main goal is this:

Keep going.

I’ve been going to the gym 3+ times a week. I want to keep doing that. I’ve been walking a lot and I want to keep doing that too. Last year we went on a few camping trips and did some other outside things, which was fun. I started a new job that is actually someting I want to do. And, of course, I read 90 books, which is pretty great, especially since my goal was to read 52.

Other than “keep going,” I’m planning to read a lot again this year. I don’t know if I’ll hit 90 books again, but knowing that I can read that much is encouraging. I think I will probably read a lot.

I have decided to learn Icelandic this year. This I have already started. In the last week, I’ve studied the phonemes of Icelandic and started learning a few words and phrases.

I’m quite excited about Icelandic becuase this is the first new language I have started since graduating college. I considered doubling down on languages I already know something about, but I wanted a new challenge and I want something to look forward to–like visiting Iceland! So, Icelandic it is. I expect I’ll blog about the langauge learning process throughout the year.

This year I am also hoping to give roller derby a try. My local team, the Sac City Rollers does a newbie class. Once they start up again, I intend to participate. Soon I’ll be an Icelandic-speaking roller derby chic. Here’s to 2015.

01 Jan

2014: The Year Ahead

I genuinely love New Year’s Day. I find that it is a good time to think about the upcoming year and decide what I want to do with it. I’m not talking about resolutions, as you might suppose. I think the concept of New Year’s resolutions is silly because everyone understands that resolutions are just a thing that you do until you get tired of it in the beginning of February. I like to set goals and make plans at the beginning of the year because it gives me something to focus on. Last year some of my goals changed—I had a goal of riding my bike 1,000 miles, for example, but got into running once spring came around. So, my plan changed. That kind of thing may happen this year, too, but it’s good to at least have a plan. Without further ado, here are my 2014 goals.

  • Books: Read at least 52 books. I only got to 46 last year, but since I’m done with grad school, I should be able to get in a book every week.
  • Writing: Write one book review every month and start working on researching/writing a book.
  • Career: Get a library job (I’m actually feeling somewhat optimistic about this at the moment), go to the ALA conference, and build more relevant skills. I’m already signed up for a MOOC (massive open online course) called “Introduction to Databases,” offered by Stanford; it starts next week.
  • Activities: Do things. Go outside and do all manner of things. This includes general stuff like exercising, but is broad enough to include basically anything outside of my apartment. I plan to work out (gym, run, etc.) twice a week at minimum, but I also want to get into more hiking and camping and I am thinking about doing swing dance (I was considering roller derby, but since I don’t have health insurance … ) and I found Midtown Stomp, which does a Friday swing lesson followed by dancing. I think that sounds dandy.
  • Food: It seems like everyone has a food-based New Year’s plan, so it seems cliché to say anything about it, but consuming food is a major component of being alive, so I might as well deal with it. I want to cook and eat a lot more vegetables and proteins. I’m planning to start going to the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturdays because I think that will be fun and be a good way to get local, tasty food.

There you have it. What are you planning to do this year?