Saturday, December 28, 2013

Learning Spanish: Get In the Groove

article from November 23, 2010
by Julie R Butler
Learning Spanish will enhance your life immensely in Latin America, even though you can often get by without it. But don’t put off learning on the assumption that immersion will make it happen when you can get further ahead of the game before you leave the States. Whether you are taking Spanish language courses or not, there are several other ways to get in the groove.
Spanish language television offers a variety of programming that helps to accustom your ear to the flow of the language. Choose whatever will interest you, whether you are a news hound, you love Animal Planet, or you have a passion for soap operas. I have to say that I have found the dubbed narrators of documentary-type shows such as National Geographic to speak the most clearly and carefully. But, again, pick something that will hold your interest for the best results.

My favorite method is watching movies that are in Spanish with English subtitles. Also, most DVDs have Spanish subtitle options, so you can make a lesson out of sitting back with a bowl of popcorn and the wonderful world of Netflix.
I have often heard the claim that Latin Americans learned their excellent English by watching soap operas or other television shows in English with Spanish subtitles, and one young woman we met said she learned all her English from the Simpsons. Now, I do not recommend watching the Simpsons dubbed in Spanish as a learning tool because the voices are ridiculous, they have to speak very fast to keep up, and it is all very distracting. On the other hand, even though I’m not fond of dubbing in general, there is some value to watching a beloved movie or show that you are already quite familiar with to pick up on phrases and vocabulary.
As for reading, comic books are what people always seem to recommend. But they are full of slang that is not terribly useful for navigating normal, everyday life. Newspapers are helpful, where pictures and context aid in the battle to understand. However, you may not be too keen on the very graphic photos of auto accidents that are usually included, and I’m not sure how important it is to know the seemingly 101 euphemisms for dying that accompany them. What I found to be the most helpful in the early stages of my learning were children’s books and literature for young adults that you are already familiar with (Harry Potter, capaz?).
Of course, anything with an English translation available is also very helpful. I have discovered that articles about Latin American culture, history, people, and other such topics that appear on Wikipidia in English have often been translated from the Spanish language version of Wikipidia, so going back and forth between the two can be enlightening.
The point is to jump in and make some kind of effort, the more enjoyable the better. Every little bit helps.
Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler

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