Italki Language Challenge Olympics

I have decided to join the italki Language Challenge Olympics, as a student. Language challenges are a great way to boost your language learning, give your language level a bump - and have a blast all at once. I have been wanting to bring my Spanish and Portuguese back to fluency for a long time, so let’s see if I can make it in only 5 weeks - before July 31th 2016.

Below the video you can find weekly updates on my progress.

Week 5


My portuguese as got clearly better, check it out:

I took my six lessons this week: one Spanish lesson and five Portuguese lessons, that’s one per day, which means that I nailed the archery goal once again. Yay!
Also, with a total of twenty-one lessons, I completed the marathon goal. Yeah me!


To be fair, I have been a bit overwhelmed by having more than one lesson per day, on top of my regular work, so my self-study has suffered a bit. Inês and I have been speaking about various topics, some of which I had never spoken about in portuguese. As a result, I ended up with a backlog of vocabulary to copy and learn.
I have been reading a bit and carried on with youtube-based immersion - but not as much as I wanted. - as the suffering of the language learning addict who would always want to learn more!

But I have some ideas on how to tackle this situation in the coming weeks.
I am currently preparing a new article with all the take-aways of this language challenge. It will be published in a few days. Stay tuned!

Follow me on twitter for daily updates or come back here every saturday for a weekly summary of my progress.

Are you also a language challenger? Drop me a line in the comments below. Let’s connect!


Week 4

Life has found some sort of new normal state this week, resulting in me resuming an almost normal language study, though still below the planned amount. Regarding the language challenge goals: all the goals have now been completed, except for ‘Marathon’, since I have completed 15 lessons of the required 20. There’s one week to go and I have planned six lessons, so it’s looking very good :)


I had a total of three lessons this week, two for Portuguese and one Spanish. I am very happy to announce that I seem to be able to speak both languages quite fluently with only minimal interferences. Both my teachers gave very encouraging feedback: my Portuguese teacher said that I improved a lot  - and I can also notice that my speaking is more fluent. My Spanish teacher said that my level had not dropped although I had not been practicing for two weeks. 


I have been carrying on with the flashcards (technique explained in the previous update), the reading and watching youtube videos in both languages.

So that’s it. I hope next week will be more peaceful and hence more productive for my study. Stay tuned!


Week 3

I always tell my students that a language study plan has to be flexible because “life gets in the way”. This week was a very good example of how life can get in the way and mess with your language study.

 Life, or rather dishes, getting in the way.

Life, or rather dishes, getting in the way.

First, I had many more lessons than I expected. I’m not complaining, I always love spending more time with my students! However this does impact my language study since I have less time and energy for it than expected. Second, my partner decided to quit her day job. She is joining me full time and I’m absolutely thrilled. But while we expected to wait for a couple of weeks for the decision to be enacted and have a big impact on our lives, it turned out that the time between the decision and her last day at work was only three days. So all in all it was a very emotional and tiring week, which culminates in the two of us having to somehow do our work with only one computer for a few days (due to her having to give her professional laptop back and waiting for the new machine to arrive). 

Which is why this update is a little late  - and somewhat thin.


This is my first week focusing on Portuguese. I had a total of three lessons, all Portuguese. I had scheduled a Spanish lesson on Friday evening, hoping it would help me not loose all my Spanish progress while I’m focusing on Portuguese. Well I’ll find out if this works next week because on Friday I needed to go for drink with my partner’s colleagues and friends, since it was her last work day.

Studying Portuguese is hard. Big time. I have an awesome teacher who is really helping me a huge lot. She also teaches Spanish and it’s good for me to start systematically separating both languages in my brain. Nonetheless the road to fluency is still quite long. I had only three lessons so far and one of them was totally unproductive due to exhaustion. I had to deal with quite a bit of frustration due to not being able to say nearly as much as I’d like to. My teacher says I’m getting better, which is good to hear. I hope it will be easier next week. 

Self study:

Due to how disrupted the week was, I couldn’t do much unfortunately. It’s mostly down to vocabulary cards and reading.

I am still using the same technique as previously. The red cards are the ones I have been using for Spanish. The green ones are for Portuguese and the yellow ones are a specific bilingual list where I write down all the words I tend to mix up in both languages. This helps.

I also spent a little time reading this book:

It contains very short stories, each being between half a page and three pages long. It’s very convenient since I generally don’t have a lot of time and become tired very fast. Having a Portuguese/German bilingual book is also an interesting experience. My German is also not perfect, and what makes it worse, the translation is often far from being literal. So basically if I don’t understand something in Portuguese, odds that I won’t understand the German either or that the translation will be so far fetched that it doesn’t help at all are very high. On the upside, I also learn some German expressions.


Week 2



This week was much more straightforward than last week and I managed to take a lesson each day from monday to friday, completing the Javelin goal! Yay! I am also progressing nicely in the Marathon goal, having had 9 lessons out of the 20 required already.
By the way, I use a trello board to keep the goals in sight. You can see it here and see exactly where I am in the challenge in real time. My five lessons were three Spanish lessons, one thai lesson (with my favourite Thai teacher Kruu Wee whom I recommend to everyone who wants to learn this beautiful and intriguing language.) and one “polyglot” lesson, where I discussed my goals and methods with my future portuguese teacher, who is also a polyglot. My first portuguese lesson is scheduled on Monday.

Self Study:

Although I had a lot of work and couldn’t dedicate as many hours to my Spanish study as I wanted, I did manage to fit in a little bit of self study everyday. I kept using the vocabulary cards, and putting the hardest vocabulary in Anki to study it more intensively. This method gives very good results, both in terms of time efficiency and memorization. I also took my own advice and watched some Spanish videos on Youtube everyday, getting many benefits in terms of improved listening skills, vocabulary and fluency. I kept reading the books that I borrowed last week, and, last but not least, I made good use of the italki notebook function, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Results of the two-week intensive Spanish study:

I now can speak Spanish more or less fluently, my level being somewhere between B1 and B2. I am quite proud with the results. Ideally I would like to achieve a full B2 level. To do this I would have to tackle the two major weaknesses already revealed last week: vocabulary and conjugations. I think the best way to go with this is to schedule some mini-challenges for myself in the future months, with targeted vocabulary or grammar/conjugation goals.

Here is a short video of the current state of my Spanish.

And now, the biggest challenge is about to start on Monday: Bring my Portuguese to the next level, all the while not forgetting my Spanish, and not mixing the two of them.

Stay tuned for next week’s update.


Week 1

This week was a little bit chaotic. Retrospectively I think there are a few things that I could have done better. I wanted to have a lesson per day, from Monday to Friday, getting goal n°2, “Javelin” down. Eventually a number of lessons were canceled for different reasons and others were scheduled in a hurry. I had a total of 4 lessons all with different teachers, including 3 on Wednesday. I got goal n°4 “Powerlifting” down - yay! 

However not practicing Spanish for months, and then jumping right into by practicing three hours in the same day is exhausting. I don’t recommend it.

I discovered that I have two major areas of weakness:  

  1. Verbs and conjugations: I remember spending hours learning the verbs in school. Let’s say they would have been better spent doing something else. I master neither the forms nor how to use the tenses correctly. Past tenses are particularly tricky.
  2. Vocabulary: This one came as a surprise. There are many frequent words that I totally don’t know, and many more that I can understand passively but would never be able to use actively. I hope to change that during the challenge. On the bright side, it is much easier for me to speak now than during the first hour, or while shooting the video. My Spanish is becoming less rusty every day. Yeah me!

Self study:

My self study hasn’t reached a consistent routine yet. I have been asking my teachers for advice on what to watch and to listen to and I have received many recommendations from them. I’m currently discovering all of this little by little.
I did a few funny little exercises such as the breakfast exercise (searching the names of all the ingredients of my breakfast in Spanish):

And I wrote my vocabulary down on paper during the lesson, and then on pink cards after a few hours. I intend on adding the most difficult words to a flashcard app after two or  three days.

Last but not least, on Friday I found time to go to the library (Helen Nathan Bibliothek in Neukölln) and discovered that they have a very large language center, containing a fairly decent amount of Spanish books. Not so many Portuguese books, but that which is normal. I borrowed three3 Spanish books (and one Portuguese book) and started reading one.

Follow me on twitter for daily updates or come back here every saturday for a weekly summary of my progress.  Stay tuned!

Are you also a language challenger? Drop me a line in the comments below. Let’s connect!