Learning Spanish as she is spoken

When it comes to learning Spanish, it doesn’t matter if you’re a whiz at languages or it makes your brain go into a total fuzz – we can all do our bit!  From speaking a few words such as a please and thank you to having a conversation in Spanish with a neighbour, it’s all a lot easier than you might think. And the good news is that there is a whole range of learning material out there to suit every one of us.
Learn Spanish onlineBut I want to start off by clarifying one thing straight away – in order to live in the Canary Islands, you don’t have to speak Spanish at all. This might apply to those who live in an English-speaking community, often the tourist resorts, to those working in an English-speaking environment such as a British school. And for the times when it is completely necessary to deal with a matter in Spanish, you can always hire a translator to help you out.
If on the other hand, you fancy ‘having a go’ then I really would encourage you to join in the fun. You’ll find that it completely enriches your experience of living abroad and gives immense satisfaction at being understood and understanding what is being said back to you (either some, most or all of the time). Just imagine how great it would be to ask for what you want at the fruit and veg market, talk about the weather or even understand what the options for lunch are on a menu board!
Menu in SpanishSo what is the best way to learn Spanish? Well I’m definitely not going to say you should learn by this method or that method, it’s all down to what time you have available, your budget and what works for you. After all, different methods of learning suit different people – some learn better by reading whilst others have to write everything down for it to sink in. For others, images might be the best way so flash cards are ideal. And then there are Spanish classes – night classes, private lessons or intensive courses for those that prefer structured, face-to-face lessons.
Learning with flash cards in SpanishI suggest trying to mix the options though so that they act as back up for each and stop you getting bored. If you’re not sure about which book to get, then head off to the local library to see what they can offer – they might also have CD’s you can take out on loan.  If not, then take a look in the book shops where there are any number of different types of books to teach yourself Spanish. Also CD’s, phrase books and flash cards. Then of course there is online tuition – a whole field on its own from free learning to fairly expensive interactive classes. And for improvers there is always the Open University.
There are some things though that will always help, no matter what, such as an audio version, constant repetition and as much exposure to Spanish as possible. Make Spanish your friend, your companion and  don’t stress yourself over it or get frustrated, learning a new language takes time.
Improve your Spanish with Open University coursesPersonally, I started with a ‘teach yourself’ book along with a tape cassette. Every evening, I would spend my allotted half hour listening and reciting words and phrases. It was an easy start with numbers, days of the week, greetings and so on, gradually moving on to little conversations, how to book a room or order a meal. Despite the fact that the book was called ‘Learn Spanish in 6 weeks’ I went over and over it, again and again gradually filling in all the bits that I had entirely forgotten from the first, second and third time when I’d read or heard them.  Now, I was all set to cope with several different scenarios and providing that the circumstances didn’t vary too much from the experience of John and Kate in the book, I should be fine. In fact, the first breakfast I ordered in the  Canaries was entirely based on what John and Kate had eaten!
For me, that booked really worked but you will want to find the system that personally works for you.  I remember the thrill though when, just after moving to the Canaries, I heard somebody in the street say something that I understood – for some reason I was amazed, almost as if I might have been feverishly studying a language that nobody spoke. In fact, there are 329 million native speakers of Spanish and it’s rated as the world’s No. 2 language.
If I had my time over again though, I would definitely recommend night classes or even an intensive language course – there are several language schools in the Canaries. But there are of course plenty of possibilities for individual or group classes once you are living abroad and the forums for the islands often have a thread on learning the language. It’s a great way to meet new friends too! And once you’ve got the basics, you can either stop at that or continue to build your knowledge.
Learn Spanish for advanced learnersThe main thing is though to practice actually speaking Spanish – this will give your learning a real boost! It rarely goes badly wrong and if you do make a mistake, it’s a great way to learn the right way.
I remember one of my larger mistakes with great clarity. A friend of ours, Nigel, had come over from Tenerife to introduce us to someone he knew who might be able to point us in the right direction of property for sale. Unfortunately that person, unbeknown to Nigel, had suddenly died just the day previously and the whole family were in a state of shock. Hardly easy for someone such as myself who was really just a beginner at Spanish to find the right words of condolence. But despite the fact that everybody in the family was weeping and clearly distraught, we were welcomed in and the brother offered us a stiff whiskey. I declined the drink but in an attempt not to appear churlish, I suggested to the brother that perhaps we would have a drink together another time.
For the word ‘drink’ I used the Spanish verb ‘beber.’ This as I discovered was not quite the right expression in the circumstances and as it turned out was way, way too close in sound to the word ‘bebé. Yes, that’s right, I had just offered to have a baby with the poor man. No wonder his face changed from grief to sheer horror and he nearly dropped his glass!
But despite that, I do encourage you to try and learn at least some Spanish. I mean, how wrong can it go?
For more about the Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands, have a look at our 7 Islands page.