Learning a Second Language

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The other day, I referenced my upcoming Guatemala trip 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 of 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)

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8 comments

  1. This is awesome! Learning a language is so exciting. I speak Japanese conversationally and took a stab at French recently, too – I wasn’t any good but I had fun trying 🙂

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