Archive for March, 2019

Fixing My Affliction of Monolingualism

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

It's tough to come to terms with the idea that my "internal software" may be broken. I know I am handicapped day in and day out by being ESL - English as a Single Language.

Spanish is similar to English. But certain aspects of Spanish, such verb conjugation rendering pronouns unnecessary, make it more concise than English. If I could think in Spanish, perhaps I would be able to compactly store certain concepts in my head.


I'm at the point in my journey of learning Spanish where I need to make some changes in my study habits to break the barrier that lies between me and basic fluency. Without a methodical process I likely will stay stagnant or even regress. A strategy with a set of goals over a specific timeline is to be established.

I've learned all of the verb conjugations. There are six main categories (moods) of verbs:

el indicativo
el subjuntivo
el imperativo
el presente progresivo
el pretérito perfecto compuesto
el pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo
Within those are various tenses, listed below:

el indicativo - el presente, el pretérito, el imperfecto, el condicional, el futuro simple
el subjuntivo - el presente, el imperfecto (2 versions), el futuro
el imperativo - afirmativo, negativo
el presente progresivo - el presente, el pretérito, el imperfecto, el condicional, el futuro simple
el pretérito perfecto compuesto - (presente) el pretérito perfecto compuesto, el pretérito anterior, el pretérito pluscuamperfecto, el condicional compuesto, el futuro compuesto
el pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo - (presesnte) el pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo, el pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo, el futuro compuesto del subjuntivo
So all in all there are about 24 total ways you can conjugate a verb. When I first started learning Spanish in middle school, learning each conjugation seemed daunting. Once they've been fully enumerated, it doesn't really seem like so much work. There are a few hundred irregular verbs, which I will have to list in another blog post. Even though I have studied each and every conjugation possible, I am still shaky. Goal (1) is:

1. Obtain absolute mastery of verb conjugation.

The second major task is building up a vocabulary. I would guesstimate my personal Spanish dictionary to contain 2,000 words. My problem is that many of these words I have mapped to an English word in my head. Instead of thining in Spanish, I am basically running a shitty Spanish virtual machine on English XP. So the (2)nd step of learning Spanish is to increase my Spanish word count to roughly 8,000 by creating a Spanish->Spanish mapping Instead of defining the Spanish words in English, I have to close the loop. So I may have a graph of 6,000 words pointing to definitions in my 2,000 fundamental Spanish words, whose concepts are mapped to English words. As I learn new words in Spanish by defining them in Spanish, I will slowly replace the middle man in my mappings of | Spanish word -> English word -> concept |

2. Build a 8,000 word + vocabulary, where new words are defined in Spanish

To learn a new language one must also be aware of how words are put together naturally by native speakers. Among other things, this means learning a large set of idioms. While speaking to Spanish speakers will help, one can process information much faster by reading. So the third step is clearly to read more books. This can be combined with step 2, by adding new words to my Spanish vocabulary study list while I read.

3. Read a minimum of 12 books in Spanish over the course of the year. Improve my vocabulary by adding new words to my study list

The final two steps are to be able to pronounce words correctly and parse spoken Spanish. Pronouncing words should is a matter of getting vocal tract used to making the shapes that are used to say certain words. Practicing this can be combined with (3) and thus combined with (2)

4. Pronounce the words as I read them.

Listening to Spanish is a tad bit tricky since it doesn't combine well with goals (2) (3) and (4). The best course of action is likely to listen to some Spanish music and simply have conversations when available. Parsing rapidly spoken Spanish is difficult but should become easier as my vocabulary expands.

5. Practice parsing spoken Spanish by listening to Spanish music and engaging in conversation when possible.

Combining all of these goals, my study plan is as follows:

Dedicate 1.5 hours to learning Spanish five days a week.

1. 30 minutes is spent working on conjugating verbs. For the fist few days I will be obtaining a list of all the irregular Spanish verbs. Then I will create a small little CL program that conjugates verbs. If they are in the irregular list, their conjugation is either further subcategorized (ala "boot" verbs) or is hard coded in. Then the Spanish program will test me on the various conjugations used spacing repetition.

2. 40 minutes is spent reading a Spanish book each day. As the book is read, each word is pronounced out loud. Words or phrases that are unknown are marked. At the end of the chapter / towards the end of 40 mins, the words are loaded into an SRS and then reviewed for 20 mins. The words, of course, are defined in Spanish.

3. Time spent on the subway/etc is spent listening to Spanish music/podcasts/etc.

Time spent on (1) will likely shift into time time spent on (2) or be switched to a more general study of Spanish grammar.

To be continued.

What Bad Writing Reveals

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

This past week I attempted to write a few blog posts. I only managed to produce gibberish that won’t be published. It is frustrating to have nothing to show for the time I had put into writing. But after I transformed my thoughts into characters, I could see those thoughts for what they were: nonsense.

I never learned to write powerfully. The standard for English in my high school was... abysmal. I was taught to make essays with a basic structure, to create somewhat grammatically correct sentences, to employ “persuasive" techniques. I learned how to comply with various bureaucracies by learning standardization's such as "MLA format" for references. In essence, I was shown how to write just well enough to keep me employed at some government job.

But I wasn't taught how to punch with my pen. Nor was I shown how to trim down the fat that hides the message behind my words. Missing from my curriculum: How to Write a Manifesto that Starts a War.

That I cannot write with impact is not a problem in and of itself. I never aspired to be a journalist or novelist or anything of the sort. The issue is that words written are a projection of one's internal dialogue. The same words that go down on paper are circulating in the head just moments before.

Knowing this, I decided to read The Elements of Style by William Shrunk Jr. and E.b. White. That ~70 page booklet contains a long list of common errors that contaminate my essays. I learned that I misallocate my relative pronouns, overuse the word “not”, group words incorrectly, etc. But reading Shrunk and White’s work convinced me that I can fix my superfluous writing. And fixing bloated writing may be a key to thinking efficiently.