Learning Spanish

Houses in Valencia
Houses in Valencia
My time in Valencia (both the province and the city) have been wonderful. I’ve been kept in constant movement since I’ve arrived either getting tours, giving speeches, or in lengthy Spanish dinners and lunches. That, plus some extremely poor internet connectivity over the weekend, means I haven’t had much time to write or process my photos. I have uploaded some photos which you can see by clicking on the image to the right.

It will be a few days before some of my longer posts with images make it to the site, but I would like to rattle off a quick update regarding something I’ve been working on since I’ve arrived in Spain: learning Spanish.

Spain is the first Spanish speaking country I’ve spent significant time in since I’ve started traveling. Spanish is also the language I’ve identified as the most practical for me to learn given the size of Latin America and the proximity of it to English (as compared to learning Chinese).

While I am nowhere near passable, my vocabulary has increased considerably since I’ve arrived. I can read a fair number of signs when I walk down the street and I’m picking up new words every day. The guides I’ve been with are probably sick of me asking what so-and-so is in Spanish, but it has been productive.

While I can comprehend more Spanish, my recall still isn’t very good. That means if I see something I might understand it, but it doesn’t mean I will think of what to say if I need it when talking. Signs are also a poor way to learn verbs, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, or interrogatives. I consider my progress in one week to be OK considering I’ve never taken a Spanish class in my life.

I’m also learning to pronounce certain sounds which are totally different in English. (Paella for example: pie-aye-ah)

My goal when I leave Spain is to be able to order something in a store or restaurant, or ask directions, in complete sentences. I’m setting my goal as something reasonable. My hope is to get better so I can travel more independently in Spanish speaking countries.

One problem I’ve encountered is that almost everyone in the tourism industry speaks English, so there aren’t as many chances to practice Spanish.

I’ve been traveling with Lillie the last week, which has been nice as she is fluent in Spanish. I have been able to use her as a walking Spanish/English dictionary.

This is actually the first time I’ve attempted to go beyond a few simple words or phrases in a country. I’m usually not in a place for more than a few weeks and, especially in Asia, it is hard to go beyond that as well as learn a whole new alphabet or writing system.

If anyone has suggestions or resources for learning Spanish, I’m open to suggestions.

Tomorrow I’m off to Madrid and hopefully I’ll get some time this week to provide you with some more in depth thoughts on Valencia.

24 thoughts on “Learning Spanish”

  1. Hey Gary,

    I am a week into a 2 week stint learning spanish at Escuela Horizonte in Esteli, Nicaragua. It is a beautieful and safe town nesteled inbetween the mountains. The teachers are excelent and everything is so cheap. There are many festivals and activities in the streets and the people are really friendly. I have been blogging about Esteli and what I have been up to at http://theworkingsightseer.com. I highly reccomend this school!

  2. wow! love your post… I guess, with tourism and all in Spain, everybody’s also learning to speak English to better communicate with tourists, which is of course bad for people who went their to learn the language. I think it’s better to go somewhere which is not visited by tourist often, so you can really have the chance to immerse your self in the language.

  3. Hi Gary, great blog!
    It’s great you want to learn more Spanish. I suggest you to visit WordDive.com and try it out! With WordDive you can exercise the recalling and you can also decide what and how wide area you want to learn, as the study material is divided into 16 categories. So for instance, if you first want to learn how to manage in a restaurant etc. you select the travel category.
    WordDive has been very helpful in my Spanish studies, as I have used it on the side of my Spanish courses at school.
    Good luck with your Spanish learning and it would be great to hear how do you like it!

  4. Great Post Gary,

    I have actually been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the last 7 months trying to learn Spanish as well. It is definitely a process. I have taken private lessons, group classes, got Colombian roommates an Argentina girlfriend and working at a Argentine bar and I’m still not there yet!!!

    AHHHH! Hopefully in time.

    Keep up the great work, you are an inspiration.



  5. I think its better to try speak with them atleast it will try to improve your pronunciation, also try to mingle with them maximum…

  6. I am leaving for Nicaragua in a few weeks and going to a Spanish Immersion class. It will be $205 a week and includes 4 hrs of private lessons a day, activities in the afternoon, and a host family to stay with including food. I spent 2 weeks with a host family in Nicaragua back in January and it is definitely the way to go. You will pick it up faster. Nicaragua is also a very safe country.

  7. Back in high school our teacher mentioned this site to us.


    They have vocab lists and even some short quizzes and tests. You can hear the words pronounced too, which can be nice.

    There’s also a free translator on the page. In my experience it tends to be better than babelfish and other free translators, so that’s a handy little tool if you’re ever in need of one!

    But overall, the best way to learn is just by talking with people and listening to it. Reading Spanish books is quite helpful too, though obviously you need to choose carefully. If you’re not ready to read Harry Potter in Spanish, then don’t read it! You’ll just get frustrated and it won’t help at all!

    Enjoy Spain! How much longer are you here for?

  8. Hola!

    Homestays are a great option to learn Spanish..especially as in the different regions there are different dialects..the locals are the best to teach you their language..and also as Brendan says it helps to think in Spanish itself.. I ve learnt tht to be helpful

    Buen Suerte!!

  9. Flashcards are awesome for boosting vocabulary. Or you can just write Spanish on one side of a sheet of paper and English on the other, like:

    Hola Hello
    Adios Goodbye

    And go down the list covering the other side up until you can recreate it from memory. This helps a lot with the speed and accuracy of recall, and you’re getting passive skills through immersion.

    You can make lists each day of words you’re learning and make flash cards in the evening – I often find that I learn the words just through physically making the cards as well.

  10. Gary,
    Check out this post about a guy who wanted to learn Spanish but was having a hard time with it. I was in the exact same boat when in Ecuador and took the 2 programs (which are free) that he advised and was amazed at how well my Spanish improved in 1 month.

    The home stay the guy went to in Ecuador is here:

    There still isn’t a substitute for immersing one self into a language and taking some classes. Of all the Latin American countries I would advise against learning Spanish for the first time in Mexico of all places. Stick with Northern South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru) as they have some of the cleanliest accents and it will do you better over all in general for traveling Latin America.

    Home stays are a great way to learn a language and as Audrey (from UCM) said they can be fairly reasonable in price. Normally what you do is stay with a local family and they cook for you as well 3 meals a day. Most families speak solo Spanish . I know in Ambato I found a family (that had internet in there house) that charged me $220 for 1 month rent plus meals. I then signed up for Spanish classes in town and they were $60 per-week (2 hrs per-day). That came to a grand total of $460 for the month and I loved it! The food was awesome, the family really took care of me and meet some really interesting people. If you interested in something like this, let me now and I can give you come contacts for places in Ecuador.

  11. Give Guatemala a try as a place to learn Spanish. The spoken Spanish is easy to understand there because it is enunciated and spoken slowly. Also, the costs are low – less than $200/week for private lessons each day (4-5 hours) and a homestay.

    We took two weeks of Spanish classes in Xela, Guatemala and then used that base for the rest of our Latin American travels. The key to really learning a language: go to places where no one (or hardly anyone) speaks English. Our Spanish now is not perfect, but we can manage in almost any situation and understand most of what people are saying to us. It wasn’t until we got to Argentina that our Spanish deteriorated because of all the English speakers around.

    Good luck!

  12. I don’t see where you say how long you’ll be staying but you seem to imply it’s more than weeks. I think your goal is far too easy. You can be at least having simple conversations if you’re there any longer than a month.

    My advice is, don’t stress about learning it. Just make it a point to have the TV on in Spanish, listen to Spanish music, try to stay away from and avoid always defaulting to English.

    Spanish is a fairly simple language. Good luck. =)

  13. Listen to their music as much as you can, actually helps with pronunciation and your accent. Good luck.

  14. Living in L.A. means we HAVE to know at least some Spanish. And you’re right: it’s the most practical to learn. Even Portugese (the language in Brazil) is somewhat close to Spanish.

    I took a year of Japanese in high school and because I haven’t used it or heard it recently, I barely remember anything. Obviously not as practical since Japanese is only spoken in Japan.

  15. Gary, one thing to keep in mind is that just as there are now World Englishes, ever since Latin America in general got independence, there are now “World Spanishes” that vary similarly to America vs. Britain, or even more.

    When you get around to touring Latin America, I would suggest lining up a local buddy to help cover some of the key differences between Spain and the former colonies.

    Also, while some lingustics professors have argued that Spanish and Portugeuse are dialects of the same language, in practice those are the two farthest-apart Spanishes you’ll run into.

    A friend from Guatemala who spent a semester abroad in Brazil gave this example:

    “the word that means strange/wondrous/rare in my Spanish instead means strange/awful/horrible/unfamiliar in Portugeuse. Looking at both languages overall, I disagree with the linguists who wrote your textbook.”

    Brit: “There’s a lorry.”
    American: “How do you know her name?” (“Laurie”)

    I encourage you to master Spanish; study of any of the Latin-based languages enable you to read word-roots on signs and in newspapers across Europe.

    For example, my high school French has, with exposure to Spanish-language billboards in Southern California, enabled me to translate most of them that I see, and to have maybe 50% comprehension of the local Spanish-language newspapers.

    FYI: due to the Norman conquest of England in 1066, 30% of English is French, and due to the Monks, 30% is Latin, so another reason to study a Latin-based language is that you are about 60% on reading mastery on word roots alone!

    Also, for adults, I hear the second and maybe third languages are hardest, but after that, the problem-solving portion of your brain has enough of a linguistic corpus to make things easier (not easy, though) with the fourth and later languages.

    English + Spanish (or another Latin-based language) will give you the word roots to handle virtually all of the Western European languages (except Celtic-based ones that survive in tiny regions) if you want to learn a lot of languages quickly.

    I pray you have great success in learning Spanish!

    • Basically, I’ve been using English words that have similar roots to help decipher Spanish. I’ve found it works for most nouns.

      As for other Spanishes, I think I need to figure out at least one before I move on to the advance class :)

  16. We are currently learning Spanish too in Buenos Aires. It’s a great language to learn because it will open up an entire continent to you. We have written about our favourite Cheap & Useful Resources for Learning Spanish .

    Good luck with it!

    • Benidorm is a nice resort town. Better than most beach communities I’ve seen. I haven’t really explored Alicante yet. That is on the agenda later today.

  17. Hey, Good luck with the Spanish!!! I found that the trick to learning the quickest is to try and teach yourself to think in Spanish. It might not be right what you’re thinking, but it will help you get to the point where you loose the uhmmm at the start and the first words that come out are in Spanish, for better or worse. In any case, immerse yourself and don’t hold back… and if that doesn’t help have a couple glasses of red wine to loosen you up!



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