This last year, I have posted once or twice about giving and receiving Story Listening lessons. At the end of last year Alice Ayel and I decided to do a tandem and teach each other German and Spanish respectively through Story Listening. It's a great opportunity to gain language and also use the lessons to work on your teaching skills. I have written more about this experience here.
Since the whole premise of the underlying Input Hypothesis by Stephen Krashen is that language acquisition is subconscious you wait and wonder if your language is improving. A good teacher doesn't let you struggle with comprehension, so the fact that I am comprehending is a mixture of great teaching and gains in language abilities. So how can I tell I am indeed improving?
Before taking Spanish lessons with Alice I have had some brief experiences with it. I had a semester of Spanish at West Chester University in PA, USA (which had just switched to a more natural approach: very little explicit grammar teaching), five weeks in Spain (the opposite of WCU: all explicit grammar teaching... after which I remebered "fui") and after that I have had no Spanish classes. However, I kept up with Spanish a little here and there by reading in Spanish. So for the last 9 years that is all I have done: read and watch some Spanish TV with subtitles. When Alice and I started, I told her that I can't read anything in the past tense because I was never really exposed to it before and in reading I just couldn't comprehend it well enough to want to keep going.
Fast forward to June this year. I was on my way to present on Story Listening in the Netherlands. I had taken one of the readers with me that I had bought months prior. I thought that the flight would be a great time to read in Spanish and I had started to take Spanish at the university in Erlangen, so it would serve as practice for the exam as well. I chose Los Piratas del Caribe & El Triángulo de las Bermudas to take with me and made myself comfortable (yeah, right!) on the plane. I thought the story was engaging and I enjoyed myself reading it and then 10-15 pages into it I suddenly realized that it's written in the past tense! I hadn't even noticed it when I started the book. I was so used to hearing stories in the past from Alice by that point that I just read and didn't pay attention to the form. I immediately had to tell Alice upon landing in Amsterdam. I had passed the hurdle of complete intimidation of the past tense to just understanding the story even though it was written in the past. Story Listening for the win!
PS: as a side note, I did realize the story was set in the past as I read it, but I just took it for granted. Also my classes at the university are horribly grammar and skill based BUT they did not include the past tense up to this point so I had no other exposure to it then from Alice's Story Listening lessons.