languages

A Genius Way to Learn Spanish (It Involves Cats!)

Over the years, I’ve used many methods to boost my Spanish proficiency. I took group lessons and attended Meet-ups, here in NYC. I spent two weeks getting one-on-one tutoring at a language school in Guatemala. I went through an entire Spanish podcast series while riding the subway.В (A sporadic task that took years to complete.)

Now that it’s summer, I’m feeling the need to brush up on my Spanish again. I’m considering another Latin America trip for the fall, and I’ve barely used Spanish since my trip to Argentina.

This time, in addition to using podcasts, I’ll also try to watch Spanish TV shows—I’m a sucker for reality competitions, so I’m thinking Telemundo’s Top Chef Estrellas or La Voz Kids.

I’ve also downloaded an app that I’m admittedly addicted to. (Dog-lovers may want to stop reading now.)

It’s called “Cat Spanish.” And it’s exactly how it sounds. Photos of cats—often, really funny ones—illustrate Spanish phrases.

hablo espanol

The pictures are so ridiculous that it makes me want to keep going to the app to see what it’ll serve up next.

no me gusta

photo 3

What has helped you learn another language? Please let me know—I can use all the ayuda I can get when it comes to espanol!

(PS – I had a fantastic week at the beach. I pretty much completely unplugged—which explains my lack of posts—but I’m looking forward to sharing some pics from my trip soon!)

Coffee Break Spanish

Over the past few years, I’ve used a number of different methods to improve my Spanish proficiency. I attended group lessons, studied at a Spanish school in Guatemala, and worked with a tutor from that school, here in NYC. I’ll occasionally read news (or celeb!) stories in Spanish and chat in broken Spanish with other amigos who speak it to some degree.

All that has slowly improved my comprehension of the language. My accent still sounds like El Bloombito and I can’t have a full conversation with a native speaker. But I can see how far I’ve come since I started.

Of all the resources I’ve used over the years, “Coffee Break Spanish” is among my favorites. It’s a podcast series in which each episode only runs about 20 minutes—the length of a short coffee break. (It originally ran from October 2006 to September 2008, but is available for free online.)В In the months leading up to a Latin America trip, I listen to one episode a day, on my way to work, and take notes.

For me, language learning is tiring, and I have to do it consistently to get anything out of it. “Coffee Break” had allowed me to get a dose of Spanish every day in a way that’s not so overwhelming or exhausting that it leaves me tired or frustrated. It’s enabled me to make studying Spanish a habit.

Plus, the “Coffee Break” hosts, Mark and Kara, do a fantastic job breaking down tricky grammatical points (like direct and indirect objects) and all the tenses (including the subjunctive!). I’m amazed at how much I learned from the series. I’ve used phrases and concepts from the lessons in all my Latin America travels.

Yesterday, I reached the end of the series—I listened to the 80th and final episode. I was actually a little sad, but also proud that I made it all the way through.

Luckily, there’s a second series for those of us who finished “Coffee Break.” “Show Time Spanish” promises to pick up where “Coffee Break” left off, with more conversations with Spanish speakers. (Something I definitely need!)

Of course, if time and money is no object, immersing yourself in a language in another country is the best way to learn. As is studying regularly with a tutor. But if you’re where I am right now, with limited disposable income, vacation time (or just time, in general!) “Coffee Break Spanish” is a great way to boost your proficiency little by little, every day.

spanish notebook

My notebook, where I’ve jotted down all the Spanish I’ve learned over the years.

Foreign Words

With my trip to Buenos Aires just a few weeks away, I’ve rekindled my Spanish studies. I’ve dug out my notebook filled with conjugations, grammar rules and definitions, and resumed listening to the “Coffee Break Spanish” podcast, every day on the subway. I can feel my slight grasp on the language returning.

Studying Spanish every day has reminded me of this wonderful Maptia blog post I came across a few weeks ago. It contains 11 illustrations of words in other languages that have no English equivalents.

Some of my favorites:

Culaccino

goya

sobremesa

Iktsuarpok

The comments on the post are just as interesting! Readers have noted other fantastic words that we could use in English—like mahmihlapinatapai, which is “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves,” in theВ Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego.

I’ll try to drop that one into conversation!

(Illustrations via Maptia)

Learning a Second Language

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The other day, I referenced my upcoming Guatemala tripВ in an email and wrote: “If only I could increase my Spanish knowledge at least twenty-fold before then!”

Sure, the purpose of my trip is to learn the language. (Like I’ve mentioned, I’m tired ofВ bumbling through Latin America with broken Spanish–not to mention NYC, where every other person speaks Spanish.) But I feel I’ll get more from the experience if I arrive with a decent grasp of grammar and vocabulary. And so, over the past few months, I’ve tried to absorb as much Spanish as I can. Here’s how I’ve squeezed it in:

I’m taking a Spanish class. I purchased a LivingSocial deal for Rennert International, a foreign language school near my office. I’ll have attended eight sessions by the time I depart. I’ve never taken a small group class before, so I don’t have a point of reference for how good or bad it is. I’ll admit that I don’t love making up dialogues, which we frequently do; I’d rather be conversing about my real life. And there are times when I wish the class would move a little faster. But my instructor, Rolando, has taught me some nitty-gritty grammatical nuances that I may not have picked up on my own. (Like when to use “traer” and when to use “llevar.”)

I joined two Spanish Meetups and attended two events. The first was a happy hour–which I highly recommend to anyone learning a language. I spent several hours at a bar speaking nothing but Spanish with native speakers and other newbies. Even though my Spanish was worse than anyone else’s, every person I spoke to was very patient in explaining words I didn’t understand (in Spanish, which I appreciated) and correcting my mistakes. I understood a lot more than I could respond to, but I left with a better grasp of some basic phrases and concepts. Mal and I also caught part of an Argentinean film, “Anita,” at another Meetup. Everyone I know, who speaks a second language, said they learned a lot from watching TV and movies. In general, I don’t often do either, but Mal and I are thinking of having Spanish movie nights when I get back. (So she can improve and I won’t lose everything I learn!)

I listen to a podcast during my morning commute. Mal recommended “Coffee Break Spanish” before our trip to Bolivia. It’s a free podcast, available through iTunes, and it’s fantastic–probably the most useful resource I’ve come across. Like the name implies, the episodes are short and entertaining. Mark and Kara, the hosts, cover various topics–from asking directions to going camping–so well, that you come away from each episode feeling like you can converse about them. (They also break down grammatical points so they’re easy to understand.) I’ve actually learned most of my vocabulary from it.

While I know I’m making progress, I’m also aware of how much more I have to learn. When I hear people speaking Spanish on the subway or in stores, I understand a few words, but usually can’t follow exactly what they’re saying.

I’m not expecting to come back from Guatemala proficient or even conversant. But I’m sure I’ll know way more than I do now…which is more than I knew a few months ago. It’s slow going! But I suppose that’s the only way to learn a language when you can’t be fully immersed in it for several months: a little at a time.

Do you speak another language (or two or three)? How did you learn it?

(Photo via Pinterest)