Quiero mejorar mi español.

In addition to my lifelong, ongoing quest to learn how to play the guitar well, I have been nursing my Spanish along for a the last 30 years.  In both cases, though, it just takes practice – which I never seem to be able to sustain for long periods of time.  My Spanish is ok, but I would really like to become fluent.   And that means broadening my vocabulary and hardening my grammar.  And practicing.

I have two Spanish novels on my bookshelf that I have started to read several times over the years, and with my spanish-english dictionary in hand, have made my way through a couple chapters.  It is hard work.  Not just for my brain, but for the manual back-and-forth effort of putting the book down to pick up the dictionary, then putting it down to pick up where I left off in the book.

So, for the umpteenth time, I picked up one of them again last week, a novel called Nada by Carmen Laforet.  I started at the beginning again.  After about 2 pages I paused and experienced a moment of inspiration:  wouldn’t it be great if I could read this book on an e-reader that would look up a word for me on the fly with the mere touch of a finger?  What a great idea, maybe someone has thought of that already!  😉

I have a five year old 1st generation Kindle Fire with a kindle e-reader built in.  So I downloaded a sample of the e-book version of Nada for free from Amazon and tried it out.  But, alas, the device only has an English dictionary built in.  I found a helpful document that explained that, unlike later Kindles, the 1st generation Fire does not support changing the default dictionary.   Strike one.

I also have a Kindle e-reader app on my Mac.  So I tried the same thing with it.  But switching dictionaries was also not possible in that scenario.  Strike two.

I understand the kindle e-reader for iPhone and iPad may support what I want to do, but I’m really not interested in reading a book on my phone – too small.  Nor buying an iPad – too expensive.

So, then I began to research whether what I wanted to do would even be possible with a new e-reader device, like the Kindle Paperwhite.  And it appeared to be.  There were two ways I could do it.  One requires being connected to wifi to look up each word, by using the built-in “translate” feature, but that was not what I wanted.  I don’t want to have to be online to lookup words.  The other method requires downloading a Spanish-English translation dictionary to the device, and then making it the default dictionary for spanish e-books.   Bingo.  Sounded like a plan.

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I am typically slow to embrace new technology and gadgets.  But when I find a use for them that is important to me, I don’t waste time!  So, I splurged and ordered the Kindle Paperwhite, which arrived yesterday.  And in a matter of minutes I was in business.   As of this morning, I am 10% of the way through the book.  And I can almost feel my brain expanding.  🙂  Home run!

By the way, this is the Spanish-English translation dictionary I’m using.  Seems to work great for what I want to do.  Even better, I downloaded it for free by using the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library perk that comes with my Amazon Prime membership.

I also found a great free app for my iPhone called Duolingo, which seems to be a very decent tool for practicing and learning.  I’ve even started trying to learn French and Irish with that app.   Now THAT’S going to take a looooong time, but what the heck.   Anyway, if you have any interest in learning or polishing your foreign language skills, check it out.

Little buddy.

Last year I went on a girls’ trip to Washington, D.C. and we walked EVERYWHERE!   One of my friends had a fitbit One (electronic fitness / health tracking gadget) which intrigued me, and I ordered one for myself before I even got back home.  I’ve been using it for almost a year now and I love it.

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As you can see, it is small, it clips onto your clothes (bra, waistband, etc) and Along with its dashboard tracks calories expended, distance walked, vertical steps climbed, sleep pattern, food (calories in), weight gain/loss.  I found it to be a good tool to incent, remind, and update me on where I am versus where I want to be.   It doesn’t work magic – when I don’t expend more calories than I take in, I gain weight.   But my experience has been that if i use it that way I’m supposed to (i.e., keep the food tracker updated and actively try to achieve my daily targets, every day) I am a better fit-izen  🙂

My 2 cents on why I love my fitbit:

  • Usability:  It is easy to wear and forget about.  I clip it onto my bra (sports or frilly) and it usually is undetectable.  It is very easy to keep continually on my person 🙂  I’ve even forgotten about it and worn it through a TSA checkpoint at the airport several times – without getting stopped.  I tried using the little wristband it comes with to wear the fitbit at night but gave up and now just clip it to what I’m wearing to bed.  I don’t even know it’s there.
  • Durability:  It’s water-resistant.  It’s definitely not bothered by lots of sweat.  It is not advertised as being water proof.   BUT it did go through the washing machine once and still works.  My washer is a High-Efficiency one wrt how much water it uses – maybe that’s why my fitbit thankfully didn’t drown.  But, you should have seen the number of steps I logged during the spin cycle overnight!
  • Battery life:  I have found that the battery lasts two weeks or more for me on a given charge.  It warns you when it is low.  And to charge it just requires using the short cord in the picture above – USB on one end, and attaching to the end of the fit bit with the adapter on the other end.
  • Ease and flexibility of uploading data from the device:   You can choose to sync the bits of data from the fitbit device to the dashboard for viewing by either (or both) of two methods.  The fitbit One can talk to/sync with the fitbit Connect application (that runs on your laptop) via the smaller USB wireless sync dongle thingie in the picture above.    And/or it can talk to/sync with the fitbit mobile app (that runs on your phone) via a bluetooth-enabled interface with your phone.  I use both.  I like that if i go on a trip where I don’t want to lug my laptop, I can still sync with my phone for the time I am gone and view the dashboard from there.   Syncing is where things might get a little less intuitive, but there are lots of FAQs to explain the ins and outs of syncing.
  • User interface:  The web dashboard can be accessed via either a web browser on a laptop, or through their mobile app.  Both are easy to use, customize, and display lots of info to glean. 
  • Customer service:  I have found most of my questions are easily answered by info found in fitbit’s online help, or the fitbit community forums.   I did have a problem recently where my wireless syncing dongle simply stopped working.  I quickly found the phone number online – it’s posted on their twitter feed(877) 623-4997.  (I’m old fashioned – there are online methods to get support here).  After less than 10 minutes on the phone with the support person I had an email in my inbox documenting that a replacement fitbit wireless sync dongle was on its way to me – free of charge.  I was back in business a few days later.
  • Value:  for me, it’s worth it.  I’ve worn it pretty much every day for almost a year.   I’ve actively used it the way I should for probably 75% of that time.  I fall off the wagon from time to time.   I think I paid a little under $100 dollars for my fitbit One.  But I struggle with my weight, and any tool that helps me stay on the path to fitness is worth it.  And that’s what my fitbit One helps me do.

Oh, one more thing….I did misplace my fitbit once.  I knew it couldn’t have gone far, though.   I googled online for an app that communicates with bluetooth devices nearby… and it was able to pick up the signal from my fitbit One and eventually zero in on its location under the couch about 10 feet away.  The free iphone app I used was called Bluetooth Smart Scanner, but there are others out there that should work as well.