Important Lessons for Expats Learning Spanish

20 March 2021

Tricks for building your Spanish skills in Spain more quickly

Information on learning Spanish for foreigners and expatriates. Free options, schools and other ways to learn the local language are all discussed.

Many city governments and provincial governments in Spain offer courses as a service for immigrants, quite often for free."

The best way to learn Spanish is to fall in love with a Spanish person. If you’re a foreign couple living here, you might have to resort to other techniques. Before I fell in love, I remember trying to watch TV—I’d soon find that my mind was wandering off. So many of the programs require a cultural background before they’re intelligible, and therefore interesting enough to hold your attention. Find a program you really like, or better yet rent movies. DVDs come in multiple languages, so watch it three times in Spanish and once in your language. Subtitles are helpful for learning contextual language as well.

Better yet, of course, make friends and hopefully they won’t insist on practicing their English. Once you’ve lived here a few years, you’ll probably resign yourself to the level you’re at, so work hard while you’re a recent arrival.

One excellent source is Puerta del Sol, a bimonthly subscription to a magazine and cassette. Good for advanced levels and a great way to fill in your cultural knowledge.

Many city governments and provincial governments in Spain offer courses as a service for immigrants, quite often for free. Do some digging at your local city hall. Also there are loads of private organizations offering courses. A great resource is the Instituto Cervantes’ search tool for courses, both public and private. (Instituto Cervantes is the public entity promoting the Spanish language and culture. There are many centers around the world.)

If you’re the self-study type, try

If you can’t manage the girlfriend and can’t afford classes…

If you are really keen to get talking and can dedicate a bit of time to coordinating a meeting time and place, an individual-type Spanish-English language exchange can be a rewarding experience."

The Local Language - Cheap

If you've lived in a foreign land without having previously learnt the local language, you know the difficulties one faces, particularly when trying to settle into your new locale. Despite the abundance of English in most tourist destinations, inevitably you find yourself totally stuck by the language barrier fulfilling some need or want. Perhaps you've been eyeing that cute boy/girl sitting next to you at the café reading a translation of the book you just finished… if only you could ask them what part they're at! And forget trying to find a flat or a job outside of the local English speaking scene: your options are limited. 

This becomes all the more imperative when you're not a tourist. Learning the numbers is a good first step; at least you'll be able to shop. This can be memorized without too much difficulty, but if you plan to stay for an extended time you're going to need help. These days one can find language schools or private lessons everywhere, but both are expensive for anyone on a budget. If you're pressured by financial concerns, there are options out there; they just aren't as obvious nor convenient as those typically expensive classes. 

Growing in popularity are language exchanges. These free opportunities for learning are advertised in the classifieds section of most English publications from your metropolitan area. Also, the Internet is seeing more and more classifieds websites daily; most cities can boast a few locally oriented ones and you can find inter-city or country-wide classifieds websites in abundance. In Barcelona, Spain, for example, check out [url=][/url] or Barcelona Metropolitan. These websites have a Language Exchange or Social section for people looking for language exchanges. The actual type of language exchange can take different forms and is usually mentioned in the advert. You will find both group-based exchanges and individuals looking for people of the desired language. The language exchange groups or “clubs” get together for dinners or have specific themes of discussion and participation, also usually stated in the advert. Be aware that a few of these group exchanges are lesser focused on the language aspects, being more of a gathering of locals and foreigners over drinks. They're often not as organized, thus not as effective for learning the local language as other methods. Never-the-less they are good opportunities for networking, making friends and connecting with other locals, not to mention good times! Both of these styles of group exchanges are good exercises in fluency and practicing the language skills you already know. Neither requires any planning or paper and pens, and can be a great way to relax, socialize and build your language skills at the same time. 

If you are really keen to get talking and can dedicate a bit of time to coordinating a meeting time and place, an individual-type Spanish-English language exchange can be a rewarding experience. First you will need to contact the person, whether you have placed an advert yourself or are responding to theirs. Email is great for this when you don't have much of the language to draw upon, and using an online translator like [url=][/url] to include a rough translation in your emails is very helpful. When arranging the initial meeting, try to remember these not-so-obvious tips: don't choose somewhere too busy or big, wear something distinguishing and tell them about it, and if possible exchange a picture by email - asking locals if they are So-and-so in their language and your accent can be embarrassing. 

At the first meeting be prepared to stick to the basics while exploring enough about them that you can plan for your next exchange. Actually many people don't prepare anything for these language exchanges and keep them “conversational.” This may or may not be what your exchange-ee wants. Note that some private teachers of English do not prepare materials for their lessons either - essentially keeping them “conversational” to improve their students' fluency and emphasise the practical aspects of the language. 

Knowing the goals and expectations of your exchange-ee is important to ensure that you complement each other's needs and style. Thinking ahead, bringing ideas and materials such as articles or music, can bring future meetings to the next level. Imagine your appreciation if your exchange-ee brought a local article written about your home country, helping you to read it, and revealing to you an extra-cultural perspective on your home! A bit of dedication with multiple exchange partners can be a great way to boost your language skills; but if you're more of a structure-oriented person or just plain want lessons, there are avenues for you as well. 

Luckily, just as the rise of TEFL training is bringing standardized, effective instruction of the English language across the globe, the concepts of TEFL training are migrating to the teaching of other languages. In most metropolitan areas people are taking up careers teaching their own language. These teacher training schools need example students - just as each TEFL school does - for the teachers in training. Those who have a TEFL certificate might remember your students having been offered free or nearly free lessons. The only catch was that you were learning how to teach as well! Language schools teaching teachers need students, and they're offering these lessons for very little or no tuition. Finding these can be tricky as most are not advertised, so look up local teacher training schools on the Internet using Google or your favourite search engine. Keep in mind that these schools cater to natives of the local language, and you may need to translate your search keywords. Also check the local periodicals in both English and the local language. 

International House, for example, offers Spanish teacher-training in many cities through-out Spain : [url=][/url] . Calling or visiting their office is the best way to get the information on these courses. Most of the courses run for a month – the time it takes for a TEFL course - and average 7-10 hours per week of instruction. You will have to write an assessment exam or undergo an interview for placement purposes. Beware: this can be an exercise in patience when there are 100 other students in the queue with no appointment times. There are no final exams or a certificate involved, but for the price you can't expect too much. Besides, you're there because you want to learn the language, not appease your employer. The teaching quality will vary from teacher to teacher. Some people are natural teachers and others need the entire month before they find their stride as a teacher. Occasionally teachers fail their course too, but even their frustrating lessons provide further exposure to the language: always a good thing. Different schools have different styles of classes as well. Some encourage the teachers to carry a single lesson aim throughout the entire class, divided between each teacher's time-slot for each class. Other schools don't mind if the teachers write their own lessons and respective lesson aims. Students have mentioned that this can result in a more confusing experience when there are three or four half hour lessons each covering totally different language aspects. Indeed these courses are a mixed bag and inevitably so when everyone is a student! Another tip: get involved in the class discussion. Your own learning is so much more effective when you take an active role. Be bold and make mistakes, everyone does. 

A combination of all the opportunities discussed, on top of general exposure to the language in your everyday life, will help you make great strides towards learning not only the language, but the culture of your new home. Money can be all-too prohibitive, especially when establishing yourself in a new country; but a little resourcefulness and time well-spent can yield great results with limited means.

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