Learning Spanish is easy, if you have a gift for languages, if you’re introduced to it at a young age, and if your memory is good. For the rest of us … not so much. It’s difficult. With that being said, I can also assure you, it is possible if you set your mind to it, if you study it, and if you don’t give up.
Before moving to La Paz, Mexico, I typed a phrase into Google: How to Learn Spanish. And then I started to read from the list Google supplied me with. But I ran into a problem when I realized that everyone had a different solution and basically assured me that their method for learning Spanish was superior to anyone else’s. I was confused, like the rest of the human race trying to figure out how to learn a foreign language.
So I started with putting sticky notes all over the house, and I have to admit I learned to say “Wall,” “Mirror,” “Oven,” and other household words using this method. But it took me 6 months, and I kept forgetting them right after I learned them. Finally, I couldn’t stand the sight of the sticky notes, so off they came. To continue the learning process, I bought a Spanish pre-school book and tried to memorize words with pictures. (It turns out my grandchildren learned faster than I did.)
Then I started on Rosetta Stone, but that got too complicated. I then switched to Pimsleur, and liked that enough to continue until well after I arrived in Mexico. Meanwhile, I bought a book called “Spanish for Dummies” and read it over exactly 9 times, then started on another workbook titled “Spanish Verb Tenses,” which I am still using. (One minute I think I get it, and the next, I am at idiot level!)
I attended Spanish school for a few months after arriving in La Paz, working with a great teacher named Marta Hoya of El Nopal. She was a great help in moving me forward, and is now a really great friend. At one point, a friend loaned me a method called “Speak in a Week.” That was two years ago – an obvious fail, although I keep these little booklets in the bathroom and read them often. Currently, I’m using Duolingo, an online tutorial that works well for those of us who type fast. I like Duolingo and highly recommend it. You go at your own pace and it nearly shames you into reviewing what you think you have already learned.
Now, all this learning is great, but the real test is when having conversations with those whose first language is Spanish. At first, it seems like their words are all in one, kind of like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from the movie Mary Poppins. Such a lack of understanding often results in people giving up. It seems that all the learning of words makes no difference if you can’t identify them within the sentences. But the trick is to continue having conversations that you don’t understand, while continuing to increase your vocabulary.
There’s no other way to learn Spanish than to commit yourself to learning it, no matter how frustrated you are or how foolish you feel. At times, I have wondered if my head was going to explode from the overload of foreign words and phrases entering my mind. But so far, my brains are still intact. And now, I am hearing the Spanish words individually. Now, I am understanding sentences and concepts, although not everything. And now, I’m answering questions and talking with my imperfect and broken Spanish with my American accent. I’m sure I sound like a three-year-old, but hey, at three, you can at least get your point across.
How to learn Spanish? Do whatever you need to do. Try different things. Combine many methods. Buy resource books. But most importantly, keep learning and practicing with Spanish-speaking people. And finally, don’t allow yourself the luxury of quitting!