Latest posts by Cecilia Conte (see all)
- Speaking English: do English people allow themselves to speak? - August 31, 2017
- Spanish-speaking speculations: how to learn Spanish - July 17, 2017
- Chuechichästli: differences between speaking German vs Swiss German - July 10, 2017
Being trilingual in French, German and English, Spanish is the first language learned as a non-native speaker. I want to tell you a bit about my experience! I started learning Spanish in high school in Berlin. To do that, I had to drop Latin classes. No regrets there, even though I study archaeology now. Speaking Spanish is more useful than knowing how to translate verses from the Iliad! I this post I want to give you some of my top tips on how to learn Spanish; things I wish somebody had told me before I started out!
Familiar words and fake friends
When you learn a new language, concentrate on what is familiar to you. It makes the task less scary. Since I learned Spanish after having done Latin, and already speaking French, it wasn’t not very hard to find words that were similar. Putting an -o or -a at the end and mumble a bit, I often got away quite well. But be weary of the words that sound similar, but mean something totally different. “Embarrassed” in English – embarassé in French – is NOT “embarazada” in Spanish. No, “embarazada” means pregnant. Tell a Spanish-speaking person that “Estoy embarazada porqué no hablo español muy bien”, you just said you’re pregnant because your Spanish is bad. These kinds of words with similar sound, but different meaning, we call them “faux amis” in French – fake friends. I think that describes it quite well!
Learn the language’s twists
Being able to communicate is the first step in learning a foreign language. The second being able to undestand the language’s intricate twists. Within one language, there regional variations in pronunciation and meaning. Having learned Spanish with a French-speaking teacher from Andalusia in Berlin, perhaps my understanding of Spanish was a bit twisted from the beginning. I have been to different cities in Spain, such as Salamanca, Barcelona and Málaga. Each time I had to re-adapt my Spanish.
As a native-speaker, it is something you do it automatically. But when it’s a foreign language, it is good to know roughly how a language differs from region to region. Where do they lisp more? In which region do they speak faster? What words are used for what? And again, beware of fake friends! I’ll let you Google the meaning of the word “coger”. In Spain, it translates “to take”, in South America it means something very different…
What about accents? First of all, everyone has them. Native speakers, beginners, everyone. When you get taught a foreign language, the teacher aims at a “neutral” accent, or the accent that is considered “the best”. When you learn English as a foreigner, it will be the British accent. If you learn Spanish, it is Castellano. You can try and imitate your teachers accent, but a good accent will only come if you’re exposed to the language a lot. Living in or visiting a country where the language you’re learning is spoken is the best way. Nonetheless, there are many things you can do from home.
What can help you learn Spanish as a foreign language?
Try combining learning the new language with other passions. Every little bit helps in the process from beginner to being fluent! For me, that meant using visual and auditory media. For example listening to Manu Chao, such as his famous song “Me gustas tú” which is really good to learn how to use the verb “gustar” and learn some vocabulary. Watching movies in Spanish is also really helpful. I suggest Almodóvar’s “Volver” with Penelope Crúz. It depicts a group of strong women and has some slightly supernatural elements to it!
When you’ve reached a good level, reading is of course key to better your language skills even more. I enjoy reading Isabel Allende’s novels. Her writing is not too complex, but the stories are gripping and give you an insight on recent Chilean history. Allende’s most famous novel is “La casa de los espiritus” (The House of Spirits).
Keep calm and keep speaking
“La práctica hace el maestro!” – practice makes the master. Don’t be self-conscious about your language skills. If you want to become fluent, you need to speak no matter what. Try surrounding yourself with native speakers. I can only recommend Latin dances such as salsa and bachata to meet Spanish-speakers. A simultaneous body and brain workout.
I probably sound like a pro now, but in all honesty: Manu Chao partly sings in French, I watched Almodóvar with subtitles and had read Allende in French before. What counts is motivación, high exposure to the language and practice, practice, practice! So next time you hear Despacito, look up the lyrics and their translations as well. Pasito a pasito (step by step) and hasta luego!