How best to learn spanish for an Argentine vacation?
July 27, 2012 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How best to learn Spanish for a three week vacation in Argentina?

For our honeymoon, my wife and I will be traveling to Argentina for three weeks (in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Patagonia). I currently know no Spanish, and she only knows a little bit. I'd like to at least pick up enough to meet basic travel needs (ordering food, asking directions, etc.) Do you have CDs / online programs / etc. to recommend? I am terrible with languages in general (whenever I have nightmares about college it's always about French class) so something geared for people who don't pick up languages easily would be great.
posted by pombe to Education (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I really like Mango Languages. The nice thing is that many libraries allow free access to the online site. A friend of mine who is a Spanish Language teacher recommended it to me.
posted by Isadorady at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2012

I have been using recently to refresh my Spanish. It's free to use. I don't have other online programs to compare it to, but a nice feature of the site is getting feedback from native speakers (you get points for giving useful feedback on exercises from people learning your own language).
posted by henuani at 1:48 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The sticky note method! Write Spanish names of all the objects in your house on Post-its and stick them on it. On everything! What is in your fridge? What colors have your shirts?
This is a great method for people who don't pick up languages easily - because you will see it over and over again, it will eventually become part of your vocabulary.
Obviously some sort of video/audio should be used for learning to get the pronunciation right. But you will know the words for fork, plate, blue t-shirt, toothpaste or apple.
Have fun on your honeymoon!
posted by travelwithcats at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had success with the Pimsleur method--it's all audio and it's in half hour lessons that build upon the last one. I liked that I could play one while I walked my dog, or cleaned the house, etc. Sometimes I would listen to the same lesson twice in a day. It's a bit expensive (about $300 for each of three levels) but I got them free from my local library and put them on my iphone. I went to Buenos Aires for a month and studied with a private tutor a little, and she was impressed with what I had accomplished with Pimsleur.
posted by parkerposey at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2012

I spent a month in Peru, and brushed up on my high school Spanish using free podcasts. I especially like the Coffee Break Spanish series, but there are lots of great ones out there.

Don't worry about the Spanish names for every object in your house, and stuff like that. You can use a phrasebook if you need to figure out some oddball noun, or just mime or use the English equivalent. I was in Peru and desperately needed a set of nail clippers. Who knows the Spanish word for nail clippers? (Well, I do now, but at the time?) I went into a pharmacy and asked, "Como se dice [MIME CLIPPING NAILS] en Espanol? Necesito esto." Got the job done just fine.

Verbs are going to be a lot more helpful than lists of general vocabulary. Also stock phrases. Also pointing.

Don't be afraid to use bad grammar. Whatever gets your point across gets your point across. There are multiple verbs for "to be" and multiple words that mean "for". A lot of the most useful verbs are irregular (go, say, give, etc). Don't get too hung up on that stuff. People will work with you. Though my grammar was insulted and my pronunciation was corrected a lot. But who cares? At least we're talking, right?
posted by Sara C. at 2:26 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I learn languages as a hobby (I do one each year), so I hope my opinion might be helpful even though you consider yourself to be poor at languages.

I would second Mango Languages. It is geared towards the sort of set phrase-based needs you have for your vacation. Hopefully, your library system subscribes. If so, you can also use it on your iOS device such as your iPhone or iPad in addition to through a web browser on your computer. Your library should also have other materials such as Pimsleur CDs.

Livemocha is good for its community of language learners and native speakers of target languages, but I do not find its Rosetta Stone-type program to be good.

I would also like to recommend my preferred method, which are US government programs from the Foreign Service Institute and Defense Language Institute. They are free, in the public domain, and are designed for speed. While there are many programs, and most are pretty dry, I think the Spanish Headstart for Latin America would be a good choice. It is designed to be a quick crash course for the basic sorts of areas you need such as greetings, getting around, shopping, and ordering in restaurants. The governmental origins will be obvious when you see sample dialogues discussing military rank, but I think the program is very good and will suit your needs well. In addition to the PDF book, there are loads of mp3s for listening practice.

I hope this experience may help you to reconsider your current hesitance to study foreign language. My life would be unrecognizable to me without this passion. Congratulations on your marriage, and I hope you have a wonderful honeymoon.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:31 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I had excellent results with Pimsleur when I was trying to teach myself Japanese, and I understand the Foreign Service lessons are quite similar. Good luck!
posted by tellumo at 2:36 PM on July 27, 2012

If you can get some practice listening to Argentine Spanish in particular, that will be helpful. (That variety of the language is also sometimes called Rioplatense Spanish, named after the Río de la Plata that runs near Buenos Aires.)

Most Spanish courses will either teach the variety that's spoken in central Spain, or a sort of generic pan-Latin-American Spanish that's modeled on what's spoken in Mexico. It's all totally the same language, of course — but imagine trying to get around in Texas with English that you learned in New Zealand, right? Rioplatense pronunciation is hard to understand if you're not used to it (though no harder to understand than any other kind of Spanish once you do get used to it) and there are some minor differences in grammar and vocabulary.

I don't think it'll be the end of the world if you take a generic Latin American Spanish course. But given the opportunity, you might as well make it easy on yourself by getting used to the particular variety of the language that you'll be hearing.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:57 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by XMLicious at 1:38 AM on July 28, 2012

I'm was in Buenos Aires a few weeks ago, and Argentine Spanish is especially tough. My husband is fully fluent and it took him a few hours to get used to it. I'm able to speak a smattering of Spanish and it took me a bit longer. Rhythmically, Argentine Spanish seemed closer to Italian. Once I understood the rhythm was different, I could understand.

For learning to comprehend Spanish, I like telenovelas. The actors over-enunciate like crazy and you get visual cues. You'll get a ton of vocabulary. It'll still be Mexican Spanish, but you get vocab.
posted by 26.2 at 4:08 PM on July 28, 2012

There are apparently a decent number of telenovelas made in Argentina — though I don't know whether the language in 'em is more Argentine sounding or more generically Mexican sounding.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:31 PM on July 28, 2012

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