Not all of us have the gift of the gab in a foreign tongue. What are our tips for speaking Spanish? Keep trying. And then try some more. Cat Gaa learned Spanish in Seville, where she lives, and offeres her take.
By Cat Gaa
Andalusia is the land that inspired some of the greats – Lorca, los Hermanos Machado, Béquer. If you’ve been to Seville, you’ll know why – the city is one of the loveliest and liveliest in Spain, making it an ideal place for studying Spanish.
To truly dominate the language, doing an intensive language course in Spain is a great option. You’ll be forced to do everyday tasks in a foreign language, perhaps take exams, and hone your skills in Spain’s most romantic city.
‘Hola, soy hispanohablante’: Tips for learning Spanish
Forget the Spanish you may have learned on grade school – it’s a nuanced language, with a long history and multiple variants. It’s no wonder that Spain has become one of the top destination for university students to study abroad or take their Erasmus year in – Spanish is one of the world’s most widely spoken tongues and Spain is the cradle of ‘castellano’.
Make a commitment to speak in Spanish as much as possible – It is extremely easy to find Anglos in Seville and while it’s great to have them around, remember the promise you made with yourself to speak Spanish and seek out opportunities to speak it whenever possible. This could mean attending a cooking class or going to the cinema by yourself, or you could do as I did and find a Spanish boyfriend.
Watch TV and listen to music in Spanish or really challenge yourself by picking up a book – Spain has a rich literary and cultural history, starting way back before Antonio Banderas or Picasso. Find a topic that is interesting to you, be it bullfighting or modern Spanish history, and read up on it, watch documentaries, or just listen to Spanish pop stars. This will improve your vocabulary and syntax greatly, and you’ll look smarter, too.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – by far the greatest barrier to language learning is the consciousness that mistake will be made. Sevillanos are, by nature, very open people, and they are, on the whole, not great English speakers. By making the effort to speak, most will be willing to help you, to coach you and to then invite you out for a beer. Once you can embrace your mistakes and learn from them you’ll be able to excel.
‘Donde está la bilbioteca’? Where to study in Seville
Seville’s popularity for study abroad means that loads of language schools have also popped up in the city center. These courses come in many shapes in sizes, so it won’t be hard to find one that fits you in terms of level, intensity, time and extra amenities, like day-trips or homestays.
Intensive language study in Seville means that you’ll typically be in class for 4 – 5 hours a day with a native speaker working on all areas of language acquisition. Most study centers are in the center and allow you to choose programs of two weeks on up to three months in addition to some sort of housing deal ( usually student housing or in homestays).
When choosing this sort of course, you’ll have to take into account what your current level is, what sort of housing you’ll want and how much your willing to spend, as these programs can run 400USD per week, with discounts given for longer stays.
If you’re merely interested in taking a few courses, the Instituto de Idiomas in the Reina Mercedes area offers twice-weekly classes of 90 minutes to help prepare for the DELE official language exams. The course runs late September – late June and will cost you about 600€ for the year. http://institutodeidiomas.us.es/espanol.
If you already know some Spanish, attending an ‘intercambio,’ or language exchange night, could be helpful in honing your oral skills and giving you confidence to speak. This is also a great way to make friends, as the exchange typically means that you’ll spend an hour speaking in your tongue, and another hour in Spanish. To find one, ask at university campus or at one of the study abroad schools or student travel companies. You can also check out http://www.tusclasesparticulares.com.
‘Lo bueno’…Reasons to study in Seville
What’s great about learning Spanish in Seville is that English is not as commonplace as it is in Madrid, Barcelona or Málaga. When at the market, it’s imperative that you master food vocabulary, and for asking directions, better know your left from right in Spanish. This guarantees that you’ll be forced to learn outside the classroom.
The city’s cultural offerings are also a strong reason to consider choosing Seville as a destination for language learning. At your doorstep, you’ll have flamenco, architecture, a thriving nightlife and tapas scene, and plenty of parks for an afternoon siesta or study session.
…’y lo malo’: Reasons why it may not be for you.
Ever heard an Andalusian speak? If not, you’ll be in for a surprise. Andalusian Spanish is a local dialect, spoken across Southern Spain with a few variations. Andalusian Spanish, called ‘andalú’, is synonymous with leaving off the last syllable and not vocalizing the /s/ sound, effectively turning España into Ehpaña.
If you’re looking to learn Castillian Spanish and be understood by all, you might want to consider Madrid or Castilla y León. Wherever it is you choose, do your best to stick to speaking in ‘español’ as much as possible and remembering that making mistakes is part of the process and – ‘olé’ – you can call yourself a Spanish speaker in no time.
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago for the olive groves of Seville six years ago, knowing very little Spanish. Thankfully, her shamelessness meant she was willing to make mistakes and talk to complete strangers on buses. She blogs about bilingual life in Seville at Sunshine and Siestas.