From Barcelona: Tips on learning Spanish

From Barcelona: Tips on learning Spanish

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Blogger Jeremy Holland is a lazy student who somehow learned how to speak Spanish. Here are his notes.

I'm probably not the best person to offer advice about foreign languages.

In high school it was the one class I always skipped and I've got a terrible ear, which explains why after nearly seven years living in Barcelona, my Spanish is good enough to communicate, explain my opinions and curse out drivers who run red lights - it's not nearly as proficient as it probably should be.

With that in mind, I'll tell you what I wish people had told me before coming to Barcelona, so after a few years of living here, people will speak in amazement about your español and not be shocked at how bad it is.

It's Spanish, not English.

I can't tell you how many people whom I've met and say: "But in English, we'd say..." Things may sound strange to you and it might not be how we say it, but that's what a foreign language is all about. Otherwise, it'd be English with Spanish words.

For example, the proper way of saying to call someone back is “volver a llamar” (to return to call). If you translate it literally, it'd be: “volver detras” (look out behind you)!

Another example is “to be hot” in English is said as “tener calor” (to have heat). If you translate directly “I'm hot” from English to Spanish, you will be saying “Estoy caliente” (I am horny)!

Skip the grammar books and buy one just with Spanish verbs.
Compared to English, Spanish is a real verb intensive.

Like with most Latin based languages, you have to conjugate all persons and the most common verbs tend to be irregular. Unfortunately, the only way to really learn the verbs is to study them. Trust me, I've tried not to, but there really isn't any alternative.

That said: by mastering the different forms and conjugations of these 10 following verbs, you'll be well on your way to speaking Spanish more fluently than most guiris who live here.

These verbs are tener (to have), poner (to put), hacer (to make/do), coger (to get) ir (to go), dar (to give) saber/conocer (to know), venir (to come), volver (to come/get/go back) and ser/estar (to be).

Forget the continuous.
In English, we say: “I'm doing something” or “They're calling about”. In Spanish: it's “I do” or “They call”. The continuous is rarely used, and you're better off forgetting it even exists for the first few months.

The same goes for other words we're so fond of using like “actually”, “really” and “I wonder”. The Spanish don't have the need to qualify that - what they are saying is truly what they are saying.

Nor do they tend to announce the fact that they're thinking about something. Instead of “I wonder if John is actually coming?” or “I wonder who's calling?”, it would be: “Will John come?” (¿Vendrá Juan?) or “Who will call?” (¿Quien llamará?).

Be direct, but not rude.
Again our English politeness often has us starting a question with: “Would you mind...?” or “Do you think that you could...?” Just cut to the chase in Spanish. Say: “Pour me a beer, please” (Ponme una cerveza, por favor).

This goes the other way around: Spanish will speak to you just as directly, so don't get offended. It's not personal.

Accept the fact that the same letters have different sounds.
The most obvious example is the "Z," which in Spanish is closer to the "TH." The same pronunciation applies for the "C." Meanwhile the "V" is the same as the "B" and the double "L" like a cross between a "Y" and a "J" with the "J" like a hacking "H." Did you get all that?

More than anything, take it easy.
Don't be stress and feel like you have to be fluent in two months. As the saying goes - "Rome wasn't built in one day" and neither is learning a foreign language. You're going to make mistakes and a fool of yourself, but you probably do in your native tongue anyway, like me.

Don't worry, the Spanish like it when people try and will often help. Sure you'll probably run into the occasional one who is a jerk. And if you do, ask him to say "How will he hit the wicket?" for a good laugh.

Open your mouth, and say it loud and proud.
I remember as a child, my parents always stressed the need to be soft-spoken and not shout. If you take this approach in Spain, you'll find yourself waiting for service and ignored. Of course this doesn't mean to yell, but it does mean you need to project your voice like you were giving a speech.

Last but not least, don't be lazy
Watch Spanish TV. Personally, I found dubbed programmes the least helpful because it's not how everyday people speak and I was translating too much. The gossip shows and the news on the other hand were great and gave me an insight into the Spanish culture. Be prepared to not understand anything at first, but if you stick with it, by the end of the third month, you'll be surprised.

Jeremy Holland / Expatica

Written by an American expat, From Barcelona is a blog dedicated to the city, the life and the people of the capital of Catalunya (Catalonia).

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Dirk Summers posted:

    on 3rd November 2010, 14:11:17 - Reply

    Hello there I'd stumbled upon this post and found out that this is very useful to what I'm doing... I speak multiple languages and quite fluent in speaking Spanish. I write reviews about learn Spanish programs... If you want to learn Spanish the most convenient way..try reading thess reviews that I wrote about the best learn Spanish program today! Check it out and enjoy!

  • Iván posted:

    on 13th July 2010, 12:17:12 - Reply

    Hello there,

    If you want to learn, one of the best things you can do is to travel to Spain. Be serious, don’t travel just for the party and fun.. try to learn spanish in Barcelona. I think it’s a great city where you can visit museums and it’s a very cosmopholitical city.
  • tony posted:

    on 16th June 2010, 11:28:55 - Reply

    going for vacation, learning some few words help but know it like my mother tongue, not yet except if i plan to live in this city and not the case, looking for local info and tips, may recommend written by a local guy, very useful to plan my holiday