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The first time you swing a baseball bat it feels incredibly awkward. After enough swings, however, your brain internalizes the conscious instructions you are giving it—turn the left shoulder, keep your hands back, rotate the ankle—, and the movement eventually becomes subconscious and natural.

Learning Spanish is not that different from swinging a bat: it only starts to feel natural after you’ve put in enough repetitions. If you feel like you’re stuck in Intermediate Purgatory, you’re probably doing a lot more consuming (reading and listening) than producing (speaking and writing). If that’s the case, here is a deliberate practice exercise that you can use to continue improving.

I love this exercise because it’s simple, engaging and effective. It has three parts:

  1. Consume: listen or read a 20-word sentence in Spanish (preferably from a native speaker). If you can both listen and read, even better.
  2. Decode: figure out the meaning. Feel free to ask a native, or use a dictionary or Google Translate.
  3. Produce: repeat the sentence from memory. If you forget the words, cycle back between consuming and repeating until you commit it to memory. Then, focus on something else for a while and try to repeat the whole sentence a few minutes later. Eventually, it will stick. When it does, it won’t go away.

Here it is, in video form:

The exercise is simple, not easy. It’s surprising how many times you can repeat the same words and still forget them a few minutes later. When that happens, your brain is letting you know that there is something confusing about that sentence: one of your blind spots. Now, you have an opportunity to fix it.

It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s easier to remember longer sentences like ¿Qué te parece si después del trabajo nos vamos a dar una vuelta por el parque? than shorter ones like ¿Nos vamos a dar una vuelta?. If the sentence seems to easy, your brain is likely to ignore it. Longer sentences require full concentration, and that’s the key to the exercise.

Focus on creating the habit

How many sentences should you internalize every day? Ten daily sentences might seem like a good goal, but I would actually recommend you commit to internalizing a single sentence every day. After that, you can do as many as you want, but make “One Sentence a Day” your daily unbreakable commitment.

Write them down in your notebook, and watch the daily streak get bigger.

Get out of Intermediate Purgatory

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