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Welcome to Vol. 15 of the Spanish Online Newsletter! Your weekly Spanish learning with sound samples, as well as links to Spanish cities and more. This week's letter contains more of an article than a lesson (don't worry next week will be more grammar...) - as I get emails every week asking me what I think the best way to learn Spanish is, and how fast a person can become fluent. Here I share my personal view along with some of my experiences with learning and teaching languages.

How long does it take to learn Spanish?

Language acquisition can be a funny thing - how fast you can learn a language depends on finding your own best method for remembering and being able to apply the things you've learned. For most people, a combination of studying the structure of the language and then being immersed is the best combination. But since taking off to Costa Rica for a month or 2 isn't possible for everybody - most people have to find ways to simulate immersion, either through music, videos, watching Spanish news, speaking with natives, etc. Music can be particularly effective because you form an emotional connection to the songs - and it also stimulates a different section of your brain than speech (article about learning through music).

In 2 or 3 months of seriously studying a language most people can be at least conversant. Fluency can take anywhere from 6 months to years, depending on the person. The best advice I can give a Spanish student is to try to find people to actually speak with at least once a week - and don't be afraid of making mistakes! The best language students are always the ones who jump right in and learn by trial and error.

I remember when I was first in Mexico I used to say "hablo muy mal pero hablo mucho!" (I speak poorly but I speak a lot!) Despite some occasional mangling of the language, my Mexican amigos seemed delighted with my attempts.The key is to just plunge ahead despite fears that you may not sound perfect, and try to be creative in combining whatever words you do know rather than keeping silent until your grammar feels more solid. As an English teacher in Buenos Aires I taught a group of engineers at one office, and a group of lawyers at another. Can anyone guess which group was easier to teach? While several of the engineers had excellent grammar, overall they were very preoccupied with not making mistakes and with learning rules. The lawyers just wanted to talk - a LOT! But interestingly enough while they probably studied less than the engineers, their language skills were as good or better, probably more by trial and error. Here are a few more pointers:

  • try to avoid looking up words in the dictionary - rather, try to find the meaning through the context of the situation
  • don't focus on vocabulary - you'd be surprised how few words you need in order to be conversant
  • verbs are KEY: start with the AR verb patterns for present and past tense - that will help you begin using verbs immediately
  • make thinking in Spanish part of your daily life - is that a TV you are watching, or a televisión? Are you going to the store, or a la tienda? Are you looking at a computer right now, or mirando una computadora? Say the words out loud!

Quiz: Spanish learning techniques

Learn the fun way: The Complete Musical Spanish buy the complete tutorial on CDs and book from Musical Spanish

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Travel Spot of the Week

visit Lake Titicaca and practice your Spanish!

Copacabana, Bolivia

Nestled on the shores of Lake Titicaca, one of the highest lakes in the word at 12,725 ft above sea level, this place is stunning! On a clear day the lake shimmers a bright royal color of blue. The little village has a lovely white church and can serve as a base to explore things like the floating reed villages, or as a stopover point on your way to La Paz. For more pictures, click here. For more on Bolivian history, click here.


Spanish Learning Tool of the Week

read more about this Spanish travel book, tape, and dictionary

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Travel Talk Spanish
Tape, Phrase Book, & Dictionary

60-minute audio cassette in both English and the target language with a handy fold-out audio guide and Lonely Planet Phrase book/Dictionary
  • Audio cassette provides key words and phrases with accurate native pronunciation
  • Audio transcript for quick on-the-spot reference and reinforcement
  • Phrase book features clear and comprehensive grammar chapters, an extensive dictionary, information on local culture plus travel tips

(regularly $22.99, here for $19.99) read more

© Spanish Online, 2003 Newsletter Volume 15, 4/26/03