Learn Spanish while working fulltime
May 1, 2012 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Have you successfully learned Spanish while working and without travel? What was your process?

I took 4 years of Spanish in high school. I never achieve fluency but I felt like I could make sense of written words.That was 10 years ago. Since that time I signed up for Livemocha and refreshed some basic grammar.

I would like to be fluent enough to speak to and write to clients in a work environment.

I was wondering if you learned Spanish or a 2nd language while working. Were you able to do it without a 6-8 week immersion trip to another country? Could you describe your process in detail?
posted by abdulf to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I took 3 years of Spanish in high school. Then a decade passed. I used Rosetta Stone module 1 and 2 (1 was too easy, 2 was better, 3 was too hard ... at first) for a semester until I started Intermediate Spanish 1 summer course followed by Intermediate Spanish 2 at the local community college.

By the end, I was pretty fluent and definitely able to carry on a conversation with my teacher.

I'd have kept up with the Rosetta Stone or talking to people if I had felt like maintaining it.

So I'd start with something like Rosetta Stone and maybe try speaking to a few clients in Spanish? I'm sure once you quickly explain that you're trying to learn, they won't mind. Just switch back to English if it's too difficult and try again after more practice.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:35 PM on May 1, 2012

I was in your situation about 10 months ago, except it had been 15 years since my last Spanish class. I could barely remember how to conjugate -ar verbs.

I managed to refresh myself and exceed my previous level by doing the following:
* Lessons at SpanishDict

* Listening to lots and lots of Spanish music. Particularly José Alfredo Jiménez. I'd pick a José Alfredo song I liked, look up the lyrics, and translate them. I memorized several of his songs. That probably taught me more Spanish than anything else I did.

* Watching lots and lots of Spanish movies. I'd pick a scene I really liked and watch it over and over, with and without subtitles. I'd transcribe a scene, and if there was a sentence I really liked I'd memorize it. The Motorcyle Diaries is a good one for this.

* Eventually I got to where I could read in Spanish well enough to read a book without too much struggle. From there, reading books helped me get some extra proficiency.

Today I am fluent enough to have a complex conversation with a native hispanohablante, entirely in Spanish. I still need more practice speaking, so I've finally enrolled in a Spanish class.

And now I'm going to Madrid! (irl)
posted by free hugs at 3:38 PM on May 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

For me, immersion was the best thing. I learned more in a month than in four years of classes. But it still wasn't enough to be fluent in a business setting at least compared to truly bilingual people. What works with immersion is having to constantly listen and speak in Spanish. What I try to do to continue learning and gaining fluency is try to immerse myself in Spanish language media (TV, radio, online, books) and make it a point to spend an hour consuming said media. I also happen to live in a neighborhood where Spanish is the dominant language and even though people in shops will see my güero looks and start speaking to me in English, I'll try an conduct business in Spanish when appropriate. At the office, I would try and compose responses to emails in Spanish for practice. Even if it is just an email about a new TPS cover sheet. I was fortunate enough at my last job at a multinational that I could interact with people in Latin American offices in Spanish and they were very patient with me.

The thing about classes and their vocabulary and dialog practice is they're not always appropriate. I mean, it is great to read about Maria's trip to Buenos Aires and her checking into the hotel, but it doesn't' help if you're not in that situation.

I try to increase my vocabulary by reading Spanish language media or just everyday asking myself "how would I say this in Spanish?" I have a dictionary app on my phone I'll look up words and use that. When signs are available in Spanish and English, I'll read the Spanish version. I asked for the Spanish ballot in the last election. I choose Spanish on the self-checkout at the grocery store. Stuff like that.

So I guess what I'm saying is you should try and immerse yourself in the language without leaving the country if you can. I watch Ley y Orden and Los Simpson on TV in the afternoons and I changed the language settings on Facebook (aka feisbuk) to Spanish [a side effect it the "Like" button on half the internet has be replaced by the "Me Gusta" button]. I'll jot down words and phrases I don't understand and use that for my vocabulary drills.

Buena suerte.
posted by birdherder at 3:56 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could learn to speak decently via an immersion trip of that length (if you have any flair at all for languages, and if you're willing to be chatty, and if you're willing to say things wrong a lot before you learn to say them correctly....three big "ifs"). But written language is a whole other thing.

If I were you, I'd triage which is more important, the spoken or the written, and concentrate on that, then fill in the other side after. But I'm not you :)

A big issue is whether your written Spanish needs to be formal/professional/presentable, or if you can get away with being informal/sloppy. If the latter, you may be able to transpose your spoken skills more quickly to written. If the former, you'd better do some serious study of grammar and vocabulary and lots of book and newspaper reading. For conversational (and informal writing), you can get away with a lot more! :)
posted by Quisp Lover at 4:24 PM on May 1, 2012

I took a spanish minor at university (had to take SAT2 for spanish), which required me to take a buttload of classes in which I had to read, write and speak exclusively in spanish. To get to that stage, I did enough self-study (any halfway decent book) to skip the regular SPN1/2 classes at university and test straight into upper level.

I also watch all the movies I can with the spanish language track turned on. I bought the FSI tapes off the internet and listened to them every day on my 90-mile commute. Sure the situations were like 100% irrelevant - I just wanted to practice hearing how different people's voices and accents sounded. The math sections were great. Don't listen to foreign language tapes in heavy traffic, btw. It helps to have a long commute or be able to ride a bus or train - lots of available brain time. At the time, I was a reporter for a rural newspaper, so a 2-hour trip through the cow pastures to a football game was a nice study interval.

When I got my teaching cert, I took the spanish instructor test and qualified (included multiple choice, essay, speaking and listening portions), but didn't get a spanish teacher job, which would actually require me to speak *less* spanish than I speak now, as an english teacher.

And then I took a job at a school that had lots of spanish speaking students and only one other spanish-speaking staff member. That got me good enough to join another school that had about 40 percent spanish speaking students and now I make all my parent phone calls myself (and frequently for other teachers). I usually plan my call scripts ahead of time for saying specialized stuff (he was swearing at his classmates, etc).

I still would not say my spanish is awesome, but it certainly is everyday adequate. The weird thing for me is that my academic speech is light years ahead of my social speech - I'm a better reader than listener, which is different from most people. But anyway, that thing you seek - it is doable.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:04 PM on May 1, 2012

I took 4 years of Spanish in high school and then one semester in college. 20 years later I decided to dust it off without travel or classes. What worked for me:

- The Practice Makes Perfect series of books to get the grammar
- Signing up for Spanish-only satellite TV, so that if I wanted to watch TV, it had to be in Spanish
- Telenovelas, especially ones available on DVD from my public library for replay as needed
- Volunteering as a translator and general adjustment-helper for Mexican immigrants
- The Collins Spanish-English dictionary for iPhone
- Flash Cards Plus for iPhone

I think the telenovelas taught me the most. I took notes as I watched them, creating flash cards to study later. I recommend "La Fea Más Bella," a fun Mexican version of "Ugly Betty" with clear speech and a plot line that includes business vocabulary. I found it at my small-city public library.

With all this, I got to the point of being able to watch Spanish-language game shows, news, and non-jargony movies. However, my speaking lagged far behind. I gained some confidence by doing volunteer work with Mexican immigrants, translating at doctor appointments, that sort of thing. They were grateful for any help I could give, so my far-from-perfect Spanish was enthusiastically received and encouraged.

When I moved to Mexico a little over a year ago, I could already understand almost everything, but my speaking still lagged seriously behind. The most helpful thing I've done here is share my house with two people who speak no English, plus I make a serious effort to socialize with Spanish speakers instead of expats. So if you live in an area with Spanish speakers, you might try to join a social group that's all native Spanish-speaking.

I now have a weekly two-hour session with a professional tutor who understands that my goal is to speak fluently and give business presentations. In addition, I set aside an hour a day to study Spanish with a focus on business. This includes:

- Reading aloud for 20 minutes to practice my accent without having to form sentences on my own. I read from novels, business web sites, whatever.
- Translating my business writing and presentations into Spanish for my tutor to check.
- Writing lots of sentences in Spanish to practice using whatever I've learned recently or have trouble applying correctly. My tutor will check those, too.

When I'm out and about or watching a telenovela, I enter new vocabulary or phrases in Flash Cards Deluxe on my iPhone. If I have any doubts about the new entry, I flag it for my tutor to review. While I wait for the bus or find myself with a little free time, I study my flash cards.

I've also been exchanging help with a local business owner. He's helping me translate an important presentation into idiomatic Spanish, and I'm helping him with strategy and design. So you might see if you can do a professional exchange with a Spanish-speaking colleague.

Finally, it has helped me to give myself deadlines, such as "Give Presentation X in Spanish at the conference on August 31." If I announce it publicly, all the better.

Have fun with it! You might find like me that learning to speak about your profession in Spanish gives you new ideas and opens up a lot more possibilities.
posted by ceiba at 6:05 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

You have seen this article, yes?

While not a fool-proof method (I'm seriously doubtful of his claim that the "learning how to pronounce the language" phase should take 1-2 weeks...), this mirrors pretty much what I have been doing with French to great success. About a year ago, I finally made good on the promise that I was going to teach myself French because the reasons for doing so just kept piling up. I'm happy to tell you what I've been doing in greater detail, but I'd hardly call my method foolproof. But when planning my upcoming trip to France, I emailed folks on AirBnb, and they responded in French rather than English - so I must be doing something right...

I have primarily used LiveMocha, but I think the key to my success there was meeting a really wonderful woman in Belgium who consistently went above and beyond in her responses to my submissions.

BBC used to have a great Spanish language podcast called "Mundo" which might be available in archive. It is great for practicing your listening. Reading is easy to practice now, especially with so much good quality content on the web. I downloaded the El Pais app for my iphone and read Spanish language news whenever I need a break from practicing my French.
posted by jph at 9:52 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

A year ago, I knew no Spanish. Now, I'm solidly at the intermediate level trending toward advanced. Basically, I've learned Spanish in ten months by throwing money and time at the problem. Here's how:

* On June 20th of last year, I found a Spanish tutor on Craigslist. We worked well together, so I began to see her for three ninety minute sessions every week. This is the core of my education, and by far the most important piece. By far. My tutor is responsive to my needs, can spot problems (and offer corrections), and makes the whole process so much more personal and fun.

* In the past year, I've spent five weeks in Peru and Bolivia, as well as three weeks in Argentina and Chile. However, these adventures were surprisingly less effective at helping me learn Spanish than you might think. I was there as a tourist, so mainly lived in an English speaking bubble. Still, I learned something.

* I volunteer for five hours every week in a Spanish-immersion second-grade classroom.

* I take a two-hour small group Spanish class every week. It's an intermediate class, but is basically worthless. I hate the way it's taught.

* For two to four hours every week, I tutor a woman from Spain in English.

Those are all of the active methods I use to learn Spanish. As I say, the tutor is the most important part of the process for me.

I also use several passive methods, by which I mean I listen to Spanish-language radio constantly (and print out lyrics to discuss with my tutor), read Spanish-language magazines, devour Spanish-language novels, watch Spanish-language movies, and listen to Spanish-language audiobooks.

I'm not immersed in Spanish, though I wish I were. (Hey! Subjunctive!) But I get 15-30 hours a week of exposure, and it seems to be enough to allow me to make constant progress. I'm no language whiz, but even I am beginning to be impressed with my abilities. Today, I spoke over two hours of Spanish without really thinking about it. Sure, I made mistakes, but so what?

Anyhow, I highly highly highly recommend a tutor if you have the financial resources. I learn more in 90 minutes with a tutor than I do in many hours of small-group classes. A tutor -- at least a good one -- can keep you focused on the skills you need to improve...
posted by jdroth at 9:57 PM on May 1, 2012

Do you have any friends who speak any Spanish? A friend and I speak about the same amount of broken Spanish; when we chat online, we often start off in Spanish and continue for as long as our command of the language holds out (sometimes as long as 30 minutes, and I admit I sometimes cheat and look things up). I don't know if I'm getting any better, but I don't seem to be getting worse...

My other suggestion is Duolingo, a Carnegie-Mellon -based spin-off project to simultaneously teach languages and crowdsource translations. German and Spanish are available, and they seem to have just debuted French. I've only been using it for a few weeks, so someone else may be more qualified to comment on its effectiveness, but the idea seems to be to teach you like you would as a native learner in school...
It's in "closed" beta, so you'll have to give your email address and wait for an invite, but mine at least didn't take very long.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:37 AM on May 2, 2012

This question is one that I've tried to answer so many times, that it actually became the basis for creating a platform dedicated to learning languages. Basically, my advice would be to try to find content in Spanish you want to understand, then dissect it into its pieces and try to figure out what it all means. Usually, that means circling words you don't understand then looking them up in a dictionary, then creating flashcards and studying. We tried to make something that does all this for you, and it works with videos too. I'd love to hear what your reaction is to it as someone who doesn't have a whole lot of time to dedicate to language study, but who is dedicated nonetheless.

The site is www.instreamia.com - if you want to shoot me a message email is scott at instreamia.com. Love to hear your reaction and feedback; so far we've gotten really positive stuff, so I hope you like it too!
posted by rappscott at 8:41 PM on July 1, 2012

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