I took French in high school, so in the beginning stages of trip planning, I had daydreamed about taking intense, 9-5 Spanish classes in whatever first South American country we landed in. A part of me missed being in a classroom after being out of the school setting for four years, and I’d be able to meet like-minded travelers, maybe befriend the local teacher, who’d then serve up tips only a local would know and get a really cool job out of it. That might’ve happened if I had followed through, but I didn’t.
I realized that the thought of stepping foot into a country without knowing more than “Que pasa?” and “Muy bien” was not just intimidating but insulting as well. Who am I to come to a foreign country and not know at least some basic terms and phrases? Plus, learning the local language is an important part of long-term travel.
So to build that base, I used Rosetta Stone, the CD-based program that’s supposed to be the best of the language learning bunch, probably because it involves speaking (and thus requires a microphone). (FYI I’ve also used Pimsleur, which isn’t great.) Rosetta Stone is an expensive option, but I was lucky enough to borrow a full Spanish set (Levels 1-5) from a friend. So while Eaman used it as a refresher—he had taken Espanol in high school—I started from scratch.
I began my lessons in July, quickly got disgruntled with my slow progress, picked back up a few weeks ago with encouragement from a friend who spent a med school rotation in Ecaudor, went strong a couple weeks ago and fell short this week thanks to my busy schedule before our imminent departure.
That sort of bumpy learning curve has taught me a few things about the program. Here, some tips and lessons learned:
- Don’t follow each and every lesson in order. It’s monotonous. Plus, it sucks away valuable time from lessons that could actually prove useful for traveling. Skip around to what’s relevant, which, in my case included numbers, question words, and terms for shopping, transportation, food, and social life.
- Skip pronunciation lessons. Unless you’re butchering the language, it’s unnecessary because the lessons are fairly repetitive. And like it or not, once you’re in the country, it’ll be obvious you’re not Spanish anyway.
- Look away. Sometime the pictures are dead giveaways. If the questions is about a cat and there’s only one picture with a cat, it’s almost like cheating. Close your eyes and try to understand the sentence as a whole before answering. And with the speaking portions, try to voice responses before you see their options.
- Make flashcards. It’s great for solidifying those important words and phrases.
- Practice without Rosetta, too. The lessons certainly helped me understand Spanish, but it was the speaking part that threw me for a loop. Take the base you learned and practice with those flashcards and a human, not just the voice from the computer.
I’m still banking on building upon what I’ve learned now with what I’ll learn while actually in South America; I think it’s far more valuable to supplement with real-life interaction. It’ll force me to learn, respond and react—in real time. But I’ll be sure to follow up on this once we’re in South America. Then we’ll see how all my Cuanto cuestas and Que te gusta hacers are doing.