Archive for January, 2014

Stay with a Family in Latin America and Learn Spanish

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

So you have started learning Spanish and you want to take it to the next level? Well, by staying with a family in Latin America you will be able to become fluent in Spanish very quickly.

A few years ago I ventured to deepest, darkest Peru to stay with a Peruvian family on the coast. It had always been my dream to visit South America and I would like to tell you that I had done my research thoroughly and knew exactly what to expect from the experience: but that would be stretching the truth.

In reality, I was super young, footloose and fancy free and caught up in the spirit of adventure. It only occurred to me to start thinking about what I was in for when I was on the airplane. I suddenly realized how little research I had done into the place I was going to be staying for the next four months and began to get nervous.

Luckily the family I was placed with was very welcoming and had as much interest in me and learning about my culture as I had in theirs. Everyday I would help the mother of the family go to the market for the daily food and then prepare it in the kitchen. This was a great experience because not only did it give me a solid couple of hours to speak Spanish and develop my fluency and vocabulary, it also taught me how to make many delicious Peruvian dishes.

At first eating a hot dish in the middle of the day in summer heat was difficult for me, but I got used to it and came to see this ritual as part of the glue that holds Peruvian families together. The chance to escape work to meet with your family is an important factor in why Peruvian families are so close. As everyone sat around the dining table it was another chance to speak Spanish and interact with both adults and teenagers – boy did I learn a lot of slang!

Apart from “sit down please” and “how are you?” no one in my host family spoke any English. From day one I was forced to interact in pure Spanish and a little bit of sign language.

At times it could be frustrating when I really wanted to share something with them and I felt clumsy doing it, or could not find the words. At times I just really wanted to have a chat to someone in English. At times I would think I understood something correctly and it turned out I did not. At times it was really tiring communicating 24/7 in Spanish. Immersing yourself in another culture and language is a challenge, no matter which way you spin it.

Poco a poco things got much easier. Gradually I found that I could communicate my thoughts and feelings much more clearly, I could keep pace during the dinner conversations, I could understand jokes and give come backs when I was being affectionately teased and I could keep up with the drama taking place on the TV soap opera.

Without having completed my stay with a Latin American family I doubt I would ever have reached the level of fluency that I achieved after only four months in Peru. I learned more in that time than any grammar book could ever have given me and it motivated me to keep trying to surmount the nightmare of Spanish verb conjugations.

There is no doubt in my mind that staying with a family in Latin America is one of the best ways that you can develop your language skills – and, if you are lucky learn to make some awesome South American food.

Make Learning Spanish Fun – Mix Up the Learning Experience

Monday, January 6th, 2014

That old adage that variety is the spice of life is absolutely true. When it comes to learning Spanish by mixing up your learning experiences you will have far more fun learning the language and will come into contact with a wide range of Spanish too.

While it is great to enroll in a Spanish course and faithfully attend your lessons, this should not be the total extent of your flirtation with the Spanish language. There are many great resources available to you that will make learning Spanish fun.

If you are taking a Spanish language class, look for classes where the teacher does not just stick to a course book. Spending hours looking at grammar tables in a text book is a sure shot way to kill off motivation to learn. Your teacher should employ a variety of exercises in a lesson that uses both visual and kinesthetic materials as well as auditory work. Classes should also have a strong communication focus, which means you are required to talk. Let’s face it, the teacher already knows how to speak Spanish, they should be talking as little as possible and allowing you to speak and try on the new language.

Social networking is the past time of this generation, so why not do it in Spanish too? There are more than 400 million native Spanish speakers around the world and many of them have Facebook and Hi-5 accounts or use Twitter and Messenger. By hooking up with these people online you can practice your Spanish, learn new vocabulary, slang and see how Spanish is used in the “real world”.

Instead of visiting your favorite websites in English change the screen language on the site to Spanish, or find similar sites that are operational in Spanish. By reading them in Spanish you will be steadily improving your language skills.

Make Youtube your best friend and download music videos and programs in Spanish. Singing along is a wonderful way to improve your pronunciation, intonation and to increase the speed with which you can vocalize Spanish words. You can also get a little listening practice in by visiting Spanish news websites and downloading pod casts to your MP3 player. These are good to listen to while you are commuting or working out at the gym.

If you are inclined to a little light literature, then check out some of the Spanish poetry available on the Internet. It is impossible to read Pablo Neruda and not fall in love with the Spanish language. For something a little less intense, look out for free Spanish e-books on topics that tickle your fancy. Reading is a guaranteed way to help improve your Spanish, especially your vocabulary.

Regardless of how old you are everybody loves a game every now and again. Check out online games such as Scrabble in Spanish or crosswords. You can play them completely free on many websites with the help of a simple Google search. Playing games like this will help to boost your vocabulary and retain new words in your head.

Start a conversation club with some of your fellow class mates or find Spanish speaking groups, there is always one around somewhere. It is very important to practice speaking to develop your fluency and by conversing you will also get much better at listening.

If you do things in the same way all the time, even the world’s most fun activities soon lose their appeal. The secret to staying motivated with your Spanish language learning is to keep trying different things and mix up the learning experience. If you do this, then mastering Spanish is well and truly within your grasp.

Watch TV and Learn Spanish

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Using TV, whether it is broadcast programs or DVDs, can be a great tool for helping you to learn Spanish. It might be called the idiot box from time to time, but when you are trying to master Spanish that is a misnomer. In fact, it can be one of your greatest resources.

Using video or television can benefit your Spanish ability in many different ways. From improving your listening skills to enabling you to tell someone off in Spanish using creative vocabulary generally involving references to one’s mother, TV can really help your Spanish along.

One of the obvious ways that it can work is by improving your listening skills. The more you listen, the more you are likely to understand. Spanish is quite a fast language and it can be hard to adjust to the speed of listening required. Regularly force yourself to listen carefully to Spanish language programs and you will be amazed at how your listening ability improves.

Another benefit you will get from listening regularly to spoken Spanish using your TV is a sense for how the language should sound. This might seem a bit strange, but when your Spanish ear is well developed you will be able to tell when, what you are saying is not correct and you may be able to fix your error. A sense of the Spanish language is just as important as an understanding of the language and with it you will be able to hear the difference between different Spanish accents.

Speaking of accents, this brings us to the next point: pronunciation. When you listen to how Spanish is spoken you can begin to mimic the sounds and rhythms of the language more effectively. You can create your own listen and repeat exercises at home using DVD. Simply listen carefully to a sentence or phrase, then pause the DVD and repeat using your best impersonation. Your mouth will begin to be able to reproduce the sounds just the way you hear them – even the double “r”!

The person who invented DVDs was a genius and the person that decided to put different audio and subtitle options onto DVDs was a super genius. It means that you can watch just about any movie in Spanish, rather than having to watch obscure foreign movies like on video in the past.

Subtitles are wonderful, wonderful things. What your ears might miss, your eyes can catch. Use subtitles on the television to expand your vocabulary. When watching a movie with the Spanish subtitles on you will pick up all kinds of colorful language and slang. But more importantly, you will see how Spanish is spoken everyday around the world. You will see the grammar forms that are used more commonly than others and you will become more familiar with sentence structure and verb forms.

Watching television in English with the subtitles on might seem a little bit like cheating, but it is actually a very valuable exercise. You can pick up many useful new expressions and phrases by doing this. It is easier for us to read Spanish, than it is to listen to it, so this can be a useful start to using DVDs and TV to improve your Spanish. As you get more confident then you can switch to Spanish audio and subtitles.

Using TV can be a very powerful way to improve your Spanish. There are many benefits such as improving your listening, vocabulary, pronunciation, intonation and even reading skills. Most DVDs come with Spanish language options these days, which means that you can make any movie experience an educational one as well.