One of the reasons we wanted to live in Mexico was to learn to speak Spanish. We thought it would be relatively easy, given we live amongst Yucatecans who speak little English. Truth is, we get frustrated with our limited vocabulary and inability to speak in anything but the present tense. So we muddle along, getting our ‘cajones’ mixed up with our ‘cojones’ (one means ‘drawer, one definitely does not), and hope that one day the proverbial lightbulb will come on and all will be illuminated.
What I have learned from studying Spanish is this:
- It’s way more fun to learn in a class with other like-minded people
- It helps to have a great teacher who is funny and interesting and who brings the cultural element into the equation (e.g. what to say when your neighbour wants to borrow money, what NOT to say when she doesn’t pay you back on time)
- Not all programs work for all people so check them out before you ‘buy’, and really think about how you learn things e.g. do you love manuals, do you want to flush your manuals down the toilet
- You can’t get anywhere by doing your homework the morning of your class, guilty as charged
- You mustn’t be afraid to practice in real life, even though you know you sound like a doofus
One of the favourite topics amongst my fellow expats who are valiantly attempting to get past “Donde esta el bano“, is the study of espanol. More specifically we ask one another, “Are you studying? Do you have a teacher? What method are you using? Are you learning on your own? How do you practice?” etc. One friend here speaks online with a tutor twice a week for an hour of conversation—they discuss topics he is interested in so he can learn the vocabulary around those topics. Another immersed herself in telenovellas (Mexican soaps). And friends who live in Merida just spent a month in Chiapas, hoping their daily language classes would leap frog them past the present tense.
One thing’s for sure. You have to maintain structure and establish a consistent learning environment, otherwise learning a new language is like a salsa lesson—one step forward, two steps back.