Learning Spanish Quickly in the US?
March 22, 2006 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I need to learn to speak Spanish as quickly as possible. There are a couple of small problems - I live in DC, work irregular 12 hour+ days, and don't have the money or the vacation time to go abroad...

I feel really daunted by this, but I keep coming back to the fact that speaking Spanish would vastly expand my options, and I badly need expanded options over the next few months.

Several years ago I lived in the UK, and visited Spain often enough to speak decent tourist (Castillian) Spanish. But I couldn't summon any of it up now, and I need to speak South American Spanish.

As mentioned, I live in DC and I work hours that probably make it impossible to regularly attend a class, or even to meet up reliably with Spanish speakers. My day isn't just long, it's irregular, changes at short notice, and it's almost always six or seven days a week. There is no possibility of going abroad for an immersion course, but it might be possible to take a short immersion course in the US. The problem would be money, but if I found something I thought would work, I'd try very hard to find the money. My employer won't help with costs, and I need to keep this quiet from anyone beyond my coworkers and immediate boss.

I drive a lot, and I've thought about buying CDs for the car, but I think they probably wouldn't be enough - I learn very quickly in an immersion type environment, but wasn't great at languages at school, when learning was more passive. I tried listening to Spanish language radio in the car, but it was way too fast for me to even seperate out words. I need to do this fast and properly, and honestly I think I'll find it tough to push myself on this while pushing myelf on the 101 other things that need attention 24 hours a day.

So what are my options? Are there CDs that are amazing, or a US based immersion course, or something else I haven't thought of?
posted by crabintheocean to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Watch Univision (or whatever the spanish channel is around you). That's how I keep near fluent years after my last class. Also good for keeping up on the latest slang/spanglish. Downloadear, anyone?
posted by ChasFile at 7:07 PM on March 22, 2006

The bonus of TV is that there are visual cues to clue you in to what they're talking about. Also, again since there are visuals, the pace tends to be alot slower than radio.
posted by ChasFile at 7:09 PM on March 22, 2006

You did say you weren't much interested in tapes, but I found Spanish with Michel Thomas [Amazon] to be quite awesome. It was mostly my wife who used it, but I found it really listenable and easy to ingest. The reviews ought to pin down whether it might be worth it for you.
posted by hodyoaten at 7:19 PM on March 22, 2006

One small tip. I'm learning Portuguese at the moment, and also find it hard to practise. One thing that's really helped is learning and listening to capoeira songs. There's something about lyrics and tunes that makes them very "sticky", and I find now that I can often recall a word or a grammar rule by relating it to a lyric I know, and as I learn new words and rules, I'm getting a lot of "aha!" moments as lyrics I already know pop up and cement the new knowledge.

So if you can get some Spanish language songs on CD, maybe even kid's songs, and listen to them whenever, I bet that would help.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:28 PM on March 22, 2006

See if you can catch Destinos on PBS. It's cheesy, but it genuinely helped me in high school.
posted by Marit at 7:32 PM on March 22, 2006

StudySpanish.com has some free resources. Their audio CD course "Camino del Exito" is really excellent. I would listen to it on my commute as well as go to a class offered by a local college at night. The combination of the two really worked out.
posted by Staggering Jack at 8:04 PM on March 22, 2006

Another tip is Univision with closed captioning so you can see AND hear the words - it helps when they speak fast. Also, watch your DVDs in Spanish - if the DVD doesn't have audio, then watch with the Spanish subtitles.

It's a great excuse also to check out spanish cinema - they have some really amazing gems that you can watch and claim the time as a learning experience! :)
posted by gatorae at 8:06 PM on March 22, 2006

Random South Americans call my Skype all the time to practice English.
posted by glibhamdreck at 8:30 PM on March 22, 2006

I'll second Marit's suggestion for Destinos. You can watch it for free online if it's not playing on PBS, and it looks like you can get a used book cheap at Amazon.

As for my experience - it was our main resource for four years of high school Spanish and I got two classes worth of credit on my college placement exam.
posted by pmann at 8:34 PM on March 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

I recommend the Pimsleur audio courses
posted by Sharcho at 9:11 PM on March 22, 2006

Can you schedule, once or twice a week, a regular lunch half-hour? Or even a regular hour once every two weeks? Even if it's not the same day or time every week?

Schedule a Spanish language tutor during that time. You can find a university student to help. It will vastly improve your tape/tv options.

Find Spanish language IRC channels and just lurk and then chat when you are ready. also a good supplement. Say the words as you are typing/reading them.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:33 AM on March 23, 2006

I second the Michel Thomas lessons on CD. They are indeed awesome. Also, try Spanish language movies (with/without subtitles) (there are some very good ones out there) and radio.
posted by jonesor at 2:01 AM on March 23, 2006

You don't need to pay for an "immersion course." You just need to go to Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan. You live in a city with thousands of native speakers of the language you want to learn. Go talk to them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:13 AM on March 23, 2006

Find yourself a speaking partner. Make friends with someone who is a native speaker of Spanish and perhaps would like to improve their English. Meet at the coffee shop several times a week and talk.
posted by Roger Dodger at 5:34 AM on March 23, 2006

Definitely watch TV; that's how my youngest brother learned Spanish (in Argentina), and he didn't even want to. He was just addicted to TV.

And what nebulawindphone said.
posted by languagehat at 6:27 AM on March 23, 2006

Liek nebulawindphone said, DC is crawling with mexicanos. At least find a good mexican restaurant and become a regular. As soon as they find out you are not an INS agent, they can be pretty friendly and I'm sure you could get some waiters to practice your spanish with. as you eat.
posted by JJ86 at 6:31 AM on March 23, 2006


You have to be aware: Capoeira songs are in extremely informal portuguese. Most of them come from slave/ex-slave communities, so they may have some grammatical errors that are usual in informal speech (like some absence of plurals, skipping the d on gerunds (fazendo => fazeno), and things like that), but unacceptable in formal speech. So, take care when using them to learn, always double check the grammar...

I second the easy-sticky music sugestion, though. Most of my (weak) german comes from Rammstein songs. Whenever I'm in doubt about some word's gender or some grammar rule, It's easy to recall a sticky phrase from some song.
posted by qvantamon at 7:35 AM on March 23, 2006

Hire a language partner. This doesn't have to be a trained Spanish language teacher; basically all you need is someone who speaks Spanish fluently. So it can be a student or someone else who's willing to work for fairly little pay in cash. Meet with the partner every day for lunch and on your day off schedule a long block of time, half a day or more. When you're with the partner, both of you only speak Spanish, period. You talk about anything -- the weather, what happened at work, the TV show you watched last night. No fair asking, "Como se dice 'airplane'?" If the partner says something you really don't get at all, you just make a quick note of it and try to figure it out later.

If this is really as important to you as you say, find a way to bend your work hours to make time for it. If you have to, invent a daily or three-times-a-week physical therapy appointment that will get you out of wherever you work for the necessary hour or hour and a half. (I would doubt your current job is in any danger because they're not going be be able to find someone to take over that kind of schedule on short notice.) But if you genuinely, genuinely cannot get out of your cubicle for the necessary time, then schedule a phone call with your language partner daily, and keep the appointment.

The other stuff, language CDs and so forth are okay as supplements but nothing can replace live conversation. One extra trick is to find a video rental place that has English language movies subtitled in Spanish -- that way you reinforce vocabulary.
posted by La Cieca at 8:12 AM on March 23, 2006

Nebulawindphone did not say that DC is crawling with mexicanos, because it isn't. In fact, if you were to encounter a native Spanish speaker in Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan, that person is more likely to be Salvadoran than Mexican. Not everybody who speaks Spanish is from Mexico.
posted by clarissajoy at 9:34 AM on March 23, 2006

Whenever you watch a DVD, go to the setup menu and switch the language to Spanish. Watch old favorite movies this way. I'm not saying that you will entirely 'learn' Spanish by this method, but it is a good exercise in following conversational flow and speeding up your processing of language.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:05 AM on March 23, 2006

clarissajoy, I am actually surprised to find this out by a quick review of census records:

11,741 Salvadorans
5,098 Mexicans

Being familiar with the midwest, mexicans are overwhelming here in Milwaukee with a population of 49,000, even nearby Chicago is even hugely mexican. I always assumed the trend followed everywhere except for maybe Miami with their large Cuban pop and New York with their large concentration of Peurto Ricans. I stand corrected.
posted by JJ86 at 10:07 AM on March 23, 2006

In addition to the suggestions above:

Can you put on headphones ans listen to a Spanish radio station while at work? If there isnt one near you, there are many Internet radio stations. A Spanish talk radio station might be preferable over a music station (just scan your AM dial) but just hearing the conversational flow in the background is not only helpful but would inundate you with Spanish during the day all day, instead of just occasionally - as most of the other suggestions here.
posted by vacapinta at 10:25 AM on March 23, 2006

To be clear, I know you said its too fast to listen to in the car but the idea above is not to *try* and comprehend it at all but rather to just let it be part of your environment and let your brain start picking up the patterns all on its own.
posted by vacapinta at 10:32 AM on March 23, 2006

If your public library gives you access to Netlibrary, you can download the Pimsleur courses for free. People say that Rosetta Stone software is supposed to be pretty good, but I've played around with it and I don't think it's all that.
posted by exhilaration at 11:49 AM on March 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all the suggestions. I'm not going to mark a best answer because I don't know what is going to be best for me yet. Reading the reviews of the Michael Thomas CDs really interested me, because it sounds like a system (picking up patterns) that could really work for me.

People who suggested lunch hour classes / meeting someone regularly, getting out of work somehow. - Those are great suggestions, but I posted this because things like that are so impossible for me. To clarify (without being too "oh poor me", because I love what I do), I don't work in a cubicle, or even in the same place every day. I drive almost all day, and work anywhere from the center of DC to the furthest point in Maryland. Sometimes I'm away from home for a week or two, sometimes I work nights. My obligations are to the people I work with, and the main reason for my hours is to fit in with them. I can't scale back this schedule, because I'd fuck stuff up for them. It's kind of an all or nothing job.

I actually live in a building with a significant population of Spanish speakers, and I've thought about meeting with someone for a "language swap", but I'd be so unreliable it wouldn't be fair. Shit, I can't even tell my wife if I'll be home for dinner until 7pm most nights.

So I think I'm going to try a combination of formal CDs, songs and TV, and once I get a start, see if there's anyone who I could work out an occasional class or meetup with.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:30 PM on March 23, 2006

Rosetta Stone is fantastic, although a bit expensive. I used it to learn a little Swahili and I loved it.
posted by SheIsMighty at 1:28 PM on March 23, 2006

More about IRC (Internet relay chat): It's probably the best way for you to get a hold of Spanish speakers and supplement the passive learning you'll be doing. If you don't know what it is, basically it's a group of people logged onto chat servers and having live typed conversations in channels based on particular topics. Many of the channels are in Spanish. IRC can be done (discreetly) at work, especially if your immediate supervisor knows about your learning activity, or it can be done at home if you have Net access there. Most of the chatters will speak a little bit of English at least, which can be helpful. If you happen to be around at a certain time of day when it's active (i.e. one focused on a particular locale - perhaps the one that you are visiting, or the folks you are working with hail from) log in and get some practice in. You're invited to email me if you'd like to learn about getting on and using IRC, and which channels would be the best for your Spanish.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:04 AM on March 24, 2006

crabintheocean - if you are still reading this, send me an email: bigbrownoso at gmail dot com and i can send you a bunch of helpful materials. i live in spain and have had to learn spanish very quickly to work (they all say they speak english but they dont). I have some resources that you might find helpful.
posted by BigBrownBear at 3:41 AM on March 29, 2006

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