After having written this post, I’m feeling more motivated than ever to conquer Spanish. I want to be proficient, damnit. And I bet you do, too …
Here are my ideas for improving your Spanish little by little (I should note that I “stole” ideas #3 and #4 from this post on The Spain Scoop):
1. Attend intercambios
In Barcelona, you can set up your own intercambios by posting on sites like tusclasesparticulares and loquo, and there are also several group intercambios organized by Meetup. Most intercambios are in the evenings, and I work most evenings, so I can’t attend as many as I’d like, but I’ve been attending a Thursday evening intercambio in El Born. It’s really well-planned, with four people to a table and little timers on the table. We switch between English and Spanish every 10-15 minutes, and there’s no embarrassment or judgment for making mistakes. In fact, everyone there encourages others to try new words, take their time, mess up.
2. Read a book in Spanish
I’m still plugging away at Maktub by Paulo Coehlo. I can skim it and get the gist, but I’m really trying to pay attention to the form of each word, studying it for which prepositions are used where, how the verbs are conjugated, etc. While I can typically understand the why behind the choices, I’m still worlds away from being able to replicate those things in my own speech. Like, for example, word order. I always say things backwards, and even though there’s more flexibility in Spanish for word order, I want to sound like a local!
Still, reading a book is another no pressure way to learn the language, albeit slowly.
3. Listen to the podcast, Coffee Break Spanish
This podcast is goofy, and I love it. It’s also free, so that’s great too. Each lesson builds off the last, so it’s not just a case of trying to memorize phrases, but actually learning elements of the language that can be applied in many different situations. Each lesson is about 15-25 minutes, so they’re perfect for listening to on the train or while walking from place to place. If you’ve already got a basic Spanish level, you can skip ahead to whichever lesson you’d like, or jump around based on gaps in your learning.
4. Supplement with language books
I don’t have much time to study from books, but I did pick up Practice Makes Perfect: Complete Spanish Grammar, based on the recommendation in The Spain Scoop blog post linked to above.
I found that, while my vocabulary is growing quickly through daily exposure, I’m still struggling with verb tenses, pronouns and sentence construction. This book is pretty good because it scaffolds instruction and provides a lot of exercises throughout. I’m trying to study from it at least every other day.
5. Hang out with locals
Of course, this is the best way to learn a language, but it’s also the trickiest when you don’t speak the language very well to begin with. I’ve found locals here to be friendly and helpful when it comes to things like giving directions or answering questions, but they’re not exactly jumping at the chance to be my lifelong friend. I think there’s also a perception (for good reason) that lots of foreigners are here temporarily, and so why invest in a friendship that won’t last? On the other hand, with the growing interest in finding work opportunities abroad (not to mention email and social media), there’s maybe more of an interest in developing international connections.
In my experience, making friends here isn’t instantaneous, but it’s starting to happen. I’m glad I got invited to a second Thanksgiving with people from all over, and I’ve met a few people through friends of friends who know someone who lives here.
6. Take a class
I haven’t gone this route since I don’t have the time, but there are plenty of affordable (and intensive) Spanish classes in Barcelona. Oxford House offers a 4-week course that meets for 1.5 hours Monday – Thursday for just 60€. There are tons of other language schools here, too, and I’d recommend asking the schools for email addresses of past or current students so you can ask questions about the quality of the classes.
All in all, if you’re learning a new language, perseverance is the name of the game. You’ve got to stick with it. In cosmopolitan cities like Barcelona, it’s too easy to get trapped in a little bubble of English. There are enough people here who speak English, and many locals here want to practice their English, so they’ll often initiate the conversation in English if you look like you’re struggling. However, I’ve gotten in the habit of saying, Háblame en español, por favor!; that usually earns a chuckle and a switch to Spanish.
If you’ve got other language learning tips for me, send them my way.