Learning Spanish

Learning Spanish

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Vanessa Rocchetta shares the secret of her success in speaking the language.

If someone were to ask me how my path to learning Spanish has been, I would say it has been a long and tedious one.

It took me seven years before I could watch Spanish television programmes and listen to Spanish radio; and at least five years before I felt comfortable holding a conversation in Spanish. And even then, the conversations were limited to the weather, shopping and where I came from.

In my humble opinion, I think students have problems picking up the language because of two main reasons: teaching methods and unavailability.

Teaching methods
Many expats give up learning the language because the teacher only speaks Spanish and that is so frustrating. Most expats want to understand every word that is said rather than gather the general context.

Although having a teacher speak only Spanish is considered the best way to teach the language, many beginners need some native language to make them feel more comfortable.

Unavailability of students
There are always many foreigners who want to learn to speak the language after moving to Spain.

However, these foreigners are always going backwards and forwards to their home countries or missing classes because they have friends and family who have come to visit.

Unavailability of advanced classes
Spanish schools, offering native Spanish teachers often only have beginners’ classes.
Once you have mastered asking for a beer or coffee and saying where you live, it is sometimes difficult to find more advanced classes.

Of course this is no excuse for not being able to speak the language especially when you are constantly surrounded by Spanish people and media.

Tips on how to pick up the language
I have taken various Spanish classes over the years and find it best to be in a small group rather than one-to-one with a teacher. Being in a small group takes the pressure off you and you can learn from other students.

Just like Spanish students learning how to speak English, you can learn  much of the language before coming to Spain. However, there is no better way of picking up the language than when in the country. Some of the students whom I have come across have either studied in the UK or have lived there for a couple of months.

Don’t worry about not understanding every word. If you immerse yourself in the language eventually you will pick up words.

Don’t worry about making mistakes. Many people don’t try to communicate in Spanish because they want to get everything perfectly right. The most important thing is to speak, the Spanish will appreciate this and will often correct you.

My greatest leap in the language came when my husband refused to pay for more English TV channels.

He felt that watching Spanish TV and listening to Spanish radio would help me learn the language more quickly. I was very sore with my husband with his decision back then, but seven years on, I have to admit he was right.

Learning a language is a never-ending process. Last year I managed to find on the Internet a list of students from Alicante University who wanted an intercambio (a language exchange). I found a very personable young Spanish woman, who was studying to be a guide, and we met regularly for a few months.

In recent months I have also started reading in Spanish. At the moment I can cope with love stories by Danielle Steele. Perhaps, in time to come, I may be able to read the famous Don Quixote, even though many Spaniards tell me that they haven’t been able to read it.

text: Vanessa Rocchetta / Expatica


Vanessa is an English teacher at St. Andrews School, Elche, Alicante.
Below are her recommendations on where you can learn Spanish:  
www.standrews-idiomas.com, www.learnspanish.com  (an extremely useful site with free courses to follow) or email arcandia@arcandia.es  at Arcandia Centro de Formación (a local school in San Fulgencio where she has found excellent teachers).

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Andrew posted:

    on 30th December 2011, 12:48:46 - Reply

    Try: www.comprende.co.uk
    This is a new website teaching Spanish. It consists of a fully structured course of fifteen lessons. These lessons are online, pre-recorded and interactive simulating a one to one lesson. With proven methodology, motivating and it has had great results.
    Affordable prices too! Its a great way to learn.
  • Catalina posted:

    on 26th February 2010, 22:03:42 - Reply

    [Edited by moderator] Being bilingual is a very valuable skill to have. Spanish is an important language to know. Many Latin American countries and even one African country have it as an official language. If you ever plan to visit, you should at least try to know a few words to get around. I think getting practice with native speakers is the best way to improve your skills. Although, that is not always easy - I did find a program that was very useful in helping my comprehension of natives. It doesn't slow down the speech for you, but it helps you understand the people are saying by writing it out on the screen. It is an engaging way to learn - you absorb the language without even realizing you are studying. It's called bueno entonces and their website is http://www.generallinguistics.com/learn-spanish. For those that do want to enrich their lives by knowing a second language, you should try it out. [Edited]
  • Marion Horrod posted:

    on 11th February 2009, 11:26:06 - Reply

    I've been living here 18 months. I spoke "tourist spanish" before I came - i.e. I could order beer and book a hotel room and that was about it. 18 months later I can chat (ungrammatically) with my neighbours, and shop happily (and not just in the supermarket!), although I still need a bilingual friend to help out with official business.

    I think the main difference is that here in Extramadura almost nobody speaks English, so if I want to talk to anybody except my husband, I have to speak Spanish. Also, I live in a tiny village where everybody wants to know about their neighbours (especially about us, as we are a novelty): if you go out of the house you WILL end up in a conversation. Necessity and total immersion are big incentives!

    I absolutely agree that you mustn't be afraid of getting it wrong. Your spanish friends want to understand you - they won't be marking you out of ten on your grammar.

    My recommendations are:
    1) Make friends anyway. You can communicate a lot with face and gesture to begin with, and laughter will get you a long way!
    2) always carry a pocket dictionary
    3) keep a really BIG dictionary at home and look up words you think you're going to need in advance
    4) invest in a textbook - if you don't have the time or inclination to study (I don't), you can at least look up things like how to form the past and future tenses.
    5) If you're going to watch a DVD, put the Spanish subtitles on if it has them. You'd be amazed by how much vocabulary you absorb.

    Other ex-pat friends (not from English speaking countries, unfortunately) tell me that watching the afternoon soaps from South America on Spanish TV is a good way to learn because the actors speak much more slowly than the average Spaniard. I don't have a TV, so I can't comment.