Top Tips for Learning Spanish in 2015
by Diana Pastor
2015! We begin a New Year and we’re sure that many of our readers are here in Xela with the purpose of improving their Spanish. Many of you are no doubt wondering how long it will take until you’re able to crack a joke in Spanish that results in people laughing at the actual joke rather than at you, or when you will be ready to successfully woo a good looking Guatemalteco/a. The answer is deceptively simple: it depends on how much time you are willing to dedicate to your Spanish, but also on how you go about learning it.
Whilst learning Spanish in the local Spanish schools is one of the most effective and traditional ways to pick up the language, you can also find many other resources to train your ears and your tongue after you finish class. Listen to Guatemalan radio – we recommend giving Emisoras Unidas, Sonora or Radio Punto a try, where you will not only learn what has been going on in the country but you can also listen to interesting radio programmes and interviews. This is quite an effective method that can help you to more quickly understand what people are saying when they are speaking at their natural speed with local vocabulary (we know how it feels when you have to listen to Guatemalans who speak so fast you feel frustrated with yourself for not understanding!). You can tune into these stations with any radio or via the internet.
You should get into the habit of reading not only books in Spanish, but also newspapers and magazines. Newspapers usually use common language because they are aimed at all age groups (with the exception of some opinion pieces by newspaper columnists which can be rather specialised and sophisticated). If you think your level is beginner’s you should start with the El Quetzalteco before moving on later to Prensa Libre and El Periodico, for example. There are lots of different types of magazines to choose from, covering a wide variety of themes and topics, and you can find them at the book fairs or you can pick up some for free at local cafés. An excellent option for magazines is the EntreMundos Magazine, which covers Guatemalan and Central American development and human rights news. It has the advantage of being a bilingual magazine, so each article is published in Spanish and English, enabling you to easily check for English translations of particular parts of articles if you are struggling to translate them yourself.
But our best advice is to simply get out there and meet local people, try to make friends, or to go language exchanges with Spanish speakers. I remember very well a foreign friend who made a real effort to go out alone with other Guatemalans in order to improve their Spanish quickly and effectively, and they made significant progress with their Spanish within a very short time. Although it can sometimes be difficult to avoid your foreign friends, and we´re not saying that you should stop talking English (or whatever your native tongue is) when you are with them, but you should try to talk to people on the streets in practical situations: observe, copy and learn how local people ask for things and interact with others. Don’t make literal translations from your own language, such as the famous “can I have a coffee?” being translated as “puedo tener un café?”. This is an understandable translation, but also a wrong one and will most likely get you some odd looks!
Keep your eyes peeled for activities that local Guatemalans will go to, and then make an effort to go there too, with another Spanish language student if you feel too timid to go by yourself. For this, the ¿Qué Pasa Xela? section of XelaWho is your best friend as it will give you the lowdown on each month´s cultural and nightlife events, where you will surely meet lots of local Quetzaltecos/as.
If you make these extra efforts, I can assure you that you will feel more comfortable and ready to communicate in this wonderful language within a very short time. So here´s to you mastering Español in 2015!