In this series, called “The Pandemic Made Me Do It,” we ask our staffers, our freelance writers, and everyday Coloradans to tell us how—during what can sometimes feel like an inspiration-sucking global meltdown—they found the motivation and the tools to try something new, brush up on an old skill, or begin laying the groundwork for a long-term project.
Name: Lindsey B. King
Day job: Deputy editor, 5280 magazine
Says she wants to: Become conversational in Spanish
My seventh- and eighth-grade Spanish teacher, Señora de Platas, was an extraordinary educator, the kind you might be fortunate enough to have once or twice in a 16-year academic career. Her exuberance, patience, and quirky flair—not to mention her beautifully trilled “R’s” and lispy thetas—helped me fall in love with what is one of the most widely spoken languages on Earth. I studied it throughout high school and came one course short of a Spanish major in college. All told, I spent 10 years learning español—and haven’t really used it since I left campus.
In the intervening 20 years, I’ve been able to retain some of the rote vocabulary; however, I’ve lost the connective phases and my verb conjugation ability is abysmal. Each time I travel and each time I encounter someone who’s fluent in Spanish, I tell myself I’m going to pick it back up. But then I remind myself that I don’t have anyone to practice with; that I don’t want to sign up for a weekly class that I have to pay for and will inevitably miss because of work; and, most critically, that I’m absolutely terrified of trying to speak after not having done it in decades.
COVID-19 Made Me Do It
Roughly six months before the virus began creeping into Colorado, I moved into what I thought was a small but cute apartment along South Broadway. Once quarantine set in, though, small began to feel claustrophobically tiny—especially since the unit has no balcony. To combat attacks of cabin fever, I began taking several 20- to 30-minute walks around my neighborhood a day. Streaming the cheap, ad-supported version of Pandora was starting to grate on my nerves when I wondered: Maybe there’s a Spanish language podcast I could listen to while I stroll. And wouldn’t you know, I was right? I happened upon CoffeeBreak Languages, which has free podcasts that teach English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, and Mandarin. Most of the Spanish lessons—of which there are 160 broken down into four “seasons,” or ability levels—are 20 minutes or less. Because it had been years since I studied the language, I started at the intermediate level, or season two. So far, I’ve listened to 20 lessons. True, I still don’t have anyone to practice with, and true, I still don’t have to face my fear of speaking to someone out loud (thank you, COVID-19), but…baby steps. The format is pretty standard for anyone who’s ever taken a language lesson. Each pod has a theme such as “-ar verbs” or “future tense”; then a teacher and a student run through the call-and-response-style lesson in a way that allows the listener to test her comprehension. After 20 years of neglecting my Spanish and four months of doing very few things to make myself happy, I’m trying to feel good about even the most meager progress. God knows we could all stand to feel good about something these days. And it’s not like I need to be fluent—or even conversational—tomorrow; after all, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.
I highly recommend CoffeeBreak Languages podcasts for your in-stroll academic entertainment, but there are myriad Colorado-based organizations that offer language programs fit for pandemic learning.
- Colorado Free University has beginner courses in French, Italian, Japanese, and Russian; however, its Spanish Center provides a complete program of Spanish classes. Right now, all courses are held via Skype or Zoom and require a solid internet connection and a computer with both audio and a microphone.
- The Language School, located in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, focuses on Spanish and ESL courses. Online instruction is taught via Skype with relatively small classes; private instruction is available, too. The organization plans to expand its roster of classes to include other languages soon.
- Alliance Francaise Denver specializes in French, bien sur! All classes are online and summer 2020 workshops—many beginning in August—are still available.
- For 17 years, the Art Of Spanish Institute has been teaching the Denver community to speak español. Offering beginner through advanced courses—all currently held online—that are ongoing (meaning you can join any time), the institute groups students based on ability levels so there’s a similar degree of communicative proficiency.
- The Colorado Chinese Language School features a Beginning Mandarin for Adults course (available online for fall 2020) that focuses on the 500 most commonly used Chinese characters.