Learning Spanish is much easier when you are in an immersion experience.
Learning a new language of any sort is exciting and difficult especially when most of your learning experiences are from inside of a formal university classroom. I have a good number of Spanish speaking friends and family in the US who I have engaged in very basic forms of conversations before coming to Chile. However, an immersion experience is truly the best way to learn another language if its not spoken in your home on a daily basis.
After arriving in Chile I began with watching Spanish language programs on Netflix like ¨La Reina del Sur¨ (perfect for a Godfather and Soprano’s fan like myself) and ¨Relaciones Peligrosas¨ (bad acting but interesting storyline) with subtitles in Spanish during my first couple months in country. Now I have advanced to listening to Spanish programs without the aid of subtitles. I´m not much of a television watcher so in my search to find another Spanish speaking series on Netflix I had to wade through some terribly corny telenovelas but, fortunately I found¨Yo soy Betty la fea¨ translated in English as I am Ugly Betty. I love this program, it is so funny and shows the kind of human follies present in most communities of people interactions. I knew that there was a TV series in the US called Ugly Betty but, I never watched it, as previously mentioned I´m not a TV series kinda watching person. I am assuming that the American version was based on this Colombia-based sitcom as it seems to have originally aired in the mid-to-late 90s.
I was told to start watching Spanish language television before I arrived in Chile but, I simply put it off because I didn’t seems to have the time and being surrounded by English speakers daily, I didn’t feel motivated to do so. Anywho, after being in an entirely Spanish speaking environment for several months I now race home every evening and listen to this program (and others) until I fall asleep and many times throughout the day when I have a break. Doing this has really helped me tune my ears and brain better to recognize the Spanish language better as both a hearer and speaker.
I decided to write this blog for all of my friends back home who have indicated to me their desire to learn Spanish or improve their Spanish speaking ability. I would suggest you try to find a viewing program that you like and perhaps start off by listening to it with the Spanish subtitles. Then, move on to listing without the subtitles turned on and make notes of certain words and phrases that you hear used repeatedly. Than, Google them to learn what they mean in specific countries/contexts. These are the kinds of everyday words and phrase that you hear within a Spanish speaking context that professors don’t spend a lot of time discussing in formal classrooms. I’ve also heard said, that one should try to read a novel from beginning to end in Spanish. I really don’t have time for reading Spanish novels while the reading I have to do in my doctoral studies and research takes up most of my reading time.
So, watching programs like these serve several beneficial purposes for me: 1) I can listen to them not having to sit in one space and still multitask doing other things at the same time; 2) I can have a break from serious academic study and enjoy something entertaining while helping to improve my Spanish listening skills; 3) I can also learn the cultural and intra-Spanish linguistic differences between Mexican, Chilean, and Colombian languages (per my viewing to date) as they all speak the Spanish language but there are different nuances, slang terms, and common phrases unique to each country and context.
Therefore, as an alternative or perhaps supplement to any formal Spanish language training you are engaged in or considering, my advise would be to find time to listen to Spanish TV and films. The brain has amazing capacities to form new connections and allow you to learn new languages even as an adult learner. I think you will be pleasantly surprised to learn how similar you and your friends and family are to people who are from other parts of the world, irrespective of what we have come to know and understand as abstract “race” differences.