April 27, 2010 | Spanish

300 Days of Language Learning, One DNF

I haven't missed a day of studying since July 1.

Yesterday was my 300th consecutive day of studying languages. I haven’t missed a day since I began this whole thing back on July 1. I mean, I certainly don’t think it would be a tragedy if I had; it’s just that I haven’t needed or wanted to. 

I Studied on Subways This Weekend

Now, there have been a handful of days where I haven’t done more than half an hour—the length of a Pimsleur lesson—but the overwhelming majority of days I have spent at least two hours studying (my minimum daily requirement for psychic peace and pleasure), and many days I have studied three, four, five, six, seven hours, even upwards of eight hours on occasion.

Initially I tried to keep a precise log of my hours. However, that was time-consuming in itself, and not remotely fun, since I often squeeze in study time in small bites throughout the day and into the night, and I found I was constantly opening up an Excel spreadsheet and entering notes off little scraps of paper accumulated throughout the day about when I had done what. One of the most horrid features of being a corporate attorney, from my point of view, is billable hours, and I definitely do not want to waste time counting time when I could put it to much better use (by studying subjunctive forms, for example).

Over the past few days I have done numerous grammar exercises (in two previously mentioned McGraw-Hill books, Dorothy Richmond’s Spanish Verb Tenses and Eric Vogt’s Spanish Past-Tense Verbs Up Close), as well as some more Rosetta Stone.

The JCC:  A Good Place to Lift Weights

The grammar exercises continue to be extremely pleasurable. Kind of like working out—like weight reps, for example! That is true of Spanish more than of the other languages, where I didn’t have the benefit of familiarity. With weightlifting you are repeating something familiar, but pushing through your current limits and building your strength. That’s what it feels like with Spanish.

I am trying to have Spanish conversations whenever I can, though without imposing on people. At Café Margot I spoke to a young Spanish woman who, unasked, offered to meet me occasionally for conversation practice. Also, a guy who works in my building, a very nice and upbeat man from the Dominican Republic, has been giving me unsolicited advice about how best to learn the language. I spoke to a Mexican deliveryman yesterday and helped him find an apartment (the numbering system in our building is confusing). I spoke to a cashier at Fairway. I tried to speak to a neighbor from I think Venezuela, but he whizzed by me without recognizing me, something that has happened to me a number of times lately because of certain significant changes to my hairstyle.

On a slightly less rosy note: two mornings ago, Sunday, I did a DNF in the More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women’s Half-Marathon in Central Park. DNF is an acronym. It stands for “did not finish.”

My Bib (Their Word, Not Mine) for the Race

This was disappointing, but not a big deal. I didn’t feel well when I woke up, and almost skipped the race altogether, but I really didn’t want to miss the start. It is an all-women’s event, and there aren’t that many of those. I had a great starting position, so I was up at the front near 46-year-old Colleen De Reuck, an extraordinary runner, who to my disappointment (I love when older runners win) ended up coming in second to a 26-year-old.

Anyway, I stood around at the starting line for 15 minutes in a cold downpour, then the gun went off, and so did I, soggily and sluggishly. I raced (if one can call it that) four miles, then peeled off, went home, showered, napped, and as soon as I woke up began studying Spanish again.

My point is, in part, I don’t like to quit races. I’m not sure I ever have quit one. Maybe one. I can’t remember. But here’s the thing: in life, you have to pick the right things to care about and commit to. Races are not critical for me. Running marathons and half-marathons: definitely not critical for me. I love running, but I love language more, and I don’t need to be put out of commission for a week—or even worse, get injured—because I couldn’t bear the thought of not finishing a race when I didn’t feel right.

Language is critical for me. I will gladly take one racing DNF along with the 300 language DFs.

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