Mario Villalobos

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Learning 30 German Words a Day

I studied my first 30 German words today, and it was tough but fun. German has this kh sound that I’m having trouble making. Words like ich (I) and vielleicht (maybe) are tough for me to say, but I know I’ll get better with practice. Other words are more fun to say, like auf keinen fall! (no way!) and schade! (what a pity!).

Like I alluded to in my last post, I’m approaching this language differently than I have with others I’ve tried learning. My main focus is on just speaking and listening. Reading will sorta come through with my flashcards, but I won’t be focused on that or writing until later. My main goal is to have a conversation with Mona in about six months, so my focus has to be simple and direct. I’m also limiting myself to about the most common 1,000 words I’ll need to know to hold a basic conversation with someone, and to just basic grammar. Nothing complex yet.

There’s a section in the Ultimate Language Learning Guide that I loved. To paraphrase: the one thing that matters with language is to express what I want to express and have the person I’m talking to understand what I’m expressing. If I just focus on that, then I think I’ll be okay.

I’m using Anki to make my flashcards and study them, and I’m using a simple spreadsheet to keep track of my words and their definitions. I’m also using this German to English dictionary by LEO for my audio files and Lonely Planet’s German phrasebook and dictionary for most of my German words and grammar.

There’s so much more work I need to do, but I think I’ve built a solid foundation to build off of, so all I have left to do is to keep working, so let’s go.

Attempting to Learn German

I love learning languages, and I wanted to spend more time learning during the winter months, so not long ago I purchased Johnny Harris and Nathaniel Drew’s Ultimate Language Learning Guide from Bright Trip. I wanted something new, some external force to kickstart my Japanese learning because it had become quite stale, quite boring, and I wanted to tackle my studies in a new way.

They have a video titled “Motivation” that goes through the why you want learn the language in the first place, and with Japanese, I quickly filled up a page in my notebook with my reasons why I wanted to learn it. I thought I’d write a blog post detailing those reasons, but I didn’t. I didn’t because to me, nothing that I would have written would have been new to me. I started learning Japanese on my own around 2018 or 2019, so I’ve been going at it for a few years. It wasn’t a 2 week fad that quickly faded away but something I’ve kept at it for years because my motivation was clear: to go to Japan with the hopes of one day living there for a while.

Because that won’t happen for a while, I decided to do something new. In April of this year, I agreed to become the academic coordinator for a foreign exchange student in Germany. She arrived in August, and I’ve had nothing but good times since her arrival. The other day I heard her talk to her dad on the phone in German, and I absolutely enjoyed listening to her talk. Years ago I wrote about one day learning eight languages, and German was one of those eight. So I thought, why not learn German now?

So here I am today. I’m committing myself to learn German for the next 6 months or so. Mona, the foreign exchange student, will leave America in about that time, and my goal is to know enough German to hold a conversation with her before she leaves for Germany. I have no idea whether I will be able to by the end of these next 6 months, but I am very excited to try.

I know this will be hard, but that’s kinda the fun of it, isn’t it?

This just makes me mad:

In the United States, more than 12 million children hear a minority language at home from birth. More than two-thirds hear English as well, and they reach school age with varying levels of proficiency in two languages. Parents and teachers often worry that acquiring Spanish will interfere with children’s acquisition of English.

A first-of-its-kind study in U.S.-born children from Spanish-speaking families led by researchers at Florida Atlantic University finds that minority language exposure does not threaten the acquisition of English by children in the U.S. and that there is no trade-off between English and Spanish. Rather, children reliably acquire English, and their total language knowledge is greater to the degree that they also acquire Spanish.

Emphasis mine.

I’m not a parent so I don’t know what happens to parents once they have children exactly, but fearing that their kids will suffer with English because they were also exposed to Spanish feels irrational to me. For me, learning and knowing Spanish made me even more proficient in English. Hell, I became a writer in no small part because I am bilingual. Everyone should know more than one language, and I truly hope studies like this will make parents and teachers (and school administrators) more open to teaching our kids a second language as early as possible.

Languages

My first language was Spanish but I stopped speaking it once I learned English. In high school, I took three years of French and loved it. In college, I took two semesters of Mandarin Chinese and loved it. For the past year, I’ve been teaching myself Japanese and I’ve been loving it. I’m currently listening to the Duolingo podcast on the great Argentinian heist of 2006, spoken in both English and in Argentinian Spanish. They say the “ya” (double Ls) sound like “ja”, so llaves (keys) becomes javes. It’s interesting. On Instagram, I went down this rabbit hole on French photographers, and I followed one who today had an hours long live session where she spoke in French and I felt this giddiness as I heard her speak that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I wanted to re-learn French, and I wanted to re-practice Spanish, and I want to keep learning Japanese and maybe one day go back to learning Chinese. I watch so much anime because I just love the musicality of the Japanese language, and I love understanding some of what the characters are saying. I’m not sure why I love languages, but I do.

There are so many decisions I wish I made when I was younger, and sometimes I feel like I’ve grown too old to pursue any of them, but I’m not. I want to keep learning and I want to travel to all these countries and speak to all these people because we’re all just people sharing the same world and trying to live the best lives we can. And if I can do so by taking pictures and going on miles-long walks? Oh man, now that’ll be the life.

Lifestyle Design

For the past few months, my thoughts have been consumed by the concept of design, mostly the concept of lifestyle design. To me, lifestyle design is the idea of creating a life one wants with the intention of living it beautifully. A beautifully designed life, like most designs, is subjective. I may find something beautiful that someone else finds atrocious. That’s normal, and I don’t want to say that my way is the right way even if it may come off that way. There are certain aspects of design that I find beautiful above anything else, the foremost of which is simplicity.

I’ve mentioned before1 that I used to be a minimalist. Regardless of the reason why I don’t consider myself one anymore, I still do subscribe to many of the characteristics that make minimalism so attractive to me. To me, minimalism means simplicity. It means living with less and yet still living a fulfilled and happy life. Unfortunately, I took that to mean getting rid of most everything I own except for the bare essentials and forcing myself to find happiness this way. I didn’t buy a car for over a year and a half because I felt like I didn’t need one. I told myself I had legs I could use to walk everywhere. During those sub-zero days last winter, I pushed through the freezing cold by telling myself that this discomfort will only make me stronger. My thoughts have fortunately evolved, and now I have a car that has made going to my current job possible. There’s no way I’d walk the 10 miles to work and the 10 miles back home in this weather. Now I’m content with buying things that add value to my life, and I’m no longer worried about the number of possessions I have, as long as what I do have provide some sort of beauty, happiness, and utility to my life.

As my thoughts on minimalism have evolved, so have my thoughts on design. Something I learned recently is that design is about intent. My maturing thoughts on lifestyle design have made me think a bit more about its purpose. What am I trying to achieve by designing my life? What kind of life am I trying to lead? What type of person am I intending to become? Here are a few quick answers to these questions:

I intend to design my life by building routines that help me live the life I want. The life I want, the life I’m trying to lead, is one where I satisfy my desires. I’m a very impulsive person, and whenever I get a thought that excites me, I have to follow it through. That’s how I messed up the network this past week at work2 and how I’m on this 200+ day Insanity workout regiment. My desires are far ranging and eclectic, and even if I satisfy only half of them during my life, I would consider that a well-lived life. Who am I trying to become? I’m not sure. There’s this image of a man I know I could be, but I don’t know why or what makes him so intriguing. The idea of a Renaissance man always intrigued me, so being well-rounded, a jack of all trades of sorts, always appealed to me. What does that mean exactly? I’m not sure. But here are a few things that have made it onto my todo list over the past few years:

This list isn’t exhaustive, but that’s a good representation of the major desires I’ve had over the years. I’m currently going through many of the desires on this list and there are others I may never get to (I’m looking at you, Latin).

All I know is that if I wasn’t purposeful about my intention to live a life I wanted, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. And that’s something I don’t even want to think about.


  1. Just search my blog for “minimalism” or “minimalist.” ↩︎

  2. A problem I fixed today! The solution was too stupid, so I won’t mention that here. ↩︎

  3. Done, on my second draft now ↩︎

  4. At one point in my life, I wanted to learn 8 languages: French, Italian, German, Russian, Latin, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. I learned French in High School and Chinese in college, but I’m in no way near being proficient in them. ↩︎

  5. I’ve never been anywhere, and my desire to learn languages was directly correlated with my desire to travel. ↩︎

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