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Learning Spanish will make your life easier in Puerto Rico

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So you’ve decided to move to Puerto Rico and you think it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to take out and brush off your junior high Spanish skills.  Good for you!  I commend you for taking the initiative to undertake learning Spanish.  I promise you, you won’t be sorry!  Life in Puerto Rico is 5x times easier with a little basic Spanish in your arsenal and insurmountably easier if you manage to become fluent at it!

That being said, it isn’t easy.  We have lived in Puerto Rico for over 6 years and I am embarrassed to admit that yo no hablo Español todavía. At least not well enough to not sound like a 2 year old!  Lol Of course this does not have to happen to you!  You can learn Spanish while living in Puerto Rico and honestly, you should!  Just don’t do any of the things that I did!  lol Please learn from my mistakes and heed my advice!

First of all, DO NOT seek out and  surround yourself with English speakers the moment you get settled!!  When we first moved here we had a toddler and I was pregnant so I stayed home and watched English television and waited for my husband to come home from work and entertain me with adult conversation (in English).  If I wasn’t speaking to my husband or teaching my toddler how to speak English, I was on the phone with my friends and family from back home (speaking English).  When I did go out of the house I was like an English hungry hound!  If I heard anyone in the waiting room or at the grocery store speaking English I would jump into conversation with them like they were the first human I had spoken to in years!  I was greedy for English and because of that I only had 1 friend for the first 3 years and she was my next door neighbor who needless to say, spoke English!

Afraid to Speak Spanish

Image taken from: http://www.ambergristoday.com/content/teen-talk/2012/may/07/teens-most-embarrassing-moments

Looking back I wish I wouldn’t have been so afraid to put myself out there and practice refining my Spanish skills because once you fall into the habit of not trying, it’s a hard habit to break.  You need to move here with the goal to become fluent and keep trying until you’ve achieved it.  Stop worrying about sounding funny or saying the wrong thing.  Trust me, I know it’s easier said than done.  I’ve embarrassed myself more times than I can count!  I once told my husband to “give me a kiss” or so I thought.  What I had actually said was, “give me a garbage”!  lol And I once ordered a pickle pizza instead of a peperoni pizza.  :-!  Learning Spanish is not easy for me and every time I open my mouth to speak it, it’s touch and go whether it will sound coherent or not.  lol

As is true for mastering any new skill, consistency is key.  Spanish skills-at least for me- are use or lose.  If you stop practicing for a month because it falls to the bottom of your priority list, you’ll lose much of the vocabulary that you spent weeks learning.  Thankfully it comes back quicker the second time but it’s always best to keep moving forward little by little, day by day, rather than stopping and restarting and having to relearn things over and over again.  It never fails that come New Years eve I write down, “Learn Spanish” on my list of resolutions and I manage to stick with it for a week or two.  Just long enough to review the lessons that I covered on Rosetta Stone the year before (and the year before that) before falling out of the habit or getting side tracked for another 11 months. It goes without saying that I hardly make any progress towards learning anything new when I study this way.

Therefore, I have learned through my own personal experience as well as countless hours of research that to effectively execute learning Spanish in a timely manner you need to make sure that you do the following things consistently:

1) Watch only Spanish television.

2) Listen to Spanish music and sing along!

3) Only speak Spanish- even if it’s really rough and basic.  Use what you’ve got and build from there. Do not speak in English!

4)  Surround yourself with Spanish speakers and even insist that they only speak to you in Spanish, even if they see you struggling.  You aren’t going to learn it if you don’t get enough practice speaking and hearing the language.

5) Lastly, get a good Spanish program to learn from.  Whether that means getting a tutor or buying Rosetta Stone, get something that will help you learn verb conjugation and vocabulary an done that requires you to practice speaking the new words you are learning.  A few of the programs that I’ve found are (which is only the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s out there):

Rosetta Stone

Living Language Spanish

duolingo

Easy Spanish Step-By-Step

Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Verb Tenses

Each of these programs have pros and cons like everything else but the biggest thing is that they won’t work unless you do!  You can spend $1,000 on multiple programs to learn Spanish but you won’t learn a single word if you don’t open the box!  Trust me, I know!  Unfortunately it takes hard work, commitment and dedication to master a new language, especially for adults.

Actually, children aren’t that much better off in my opinion.  If I had a nickel for every time someone has told me or my husband, “Oh, don’t worry, your kids will pick it up and be speaking Spanish fluently in no time!” I would be a millionaire by now!  So, I hate to break it to you, but I call BS!  Sure, they UNDERSTAND a lot of Spanish, but it has been almost 7 years in the making and they barely know more than I do (and that isn’t much)!  So I cannot stress this enough.

YOU WILL NOT LEARN SPANISH IF YOU DO NOT WORK AT IT EVERYDAY!

You aren’t going to miraculously become fluent in Spanish just because you move to Puerto Rico or marry a Puerto Rican (sadly language isn’t sexually transmitted) and your children won’t suddenly come out of the womb speaking Spanish just because they were born in Puerto Rico.  You AND your children need exposure and practice EVERY DAY!  And no, eavesdropping on your neighbor’s conversations doesn’t count either,  you need to get out there and mingle!  Use the language, hear the language, and refuse to stop until you’ve mastered it. If you follow my advice, you could be well on your way to fluency in 6 months (or so I’ve heard).  😉  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch my telenovelas while I play duolingo on my phone.  😉 Good luck! We can do this!

4 Comments

  1. Hi Jay. I’m thinking about going to Puerto Rico for a few months in the coming fall or winter. Right now I’m taking a beginning conversational Spanish class at my local JC. I’m considering jumping into an immersion Spanish class in Puerto Rico to get me speaking Spanish daily. Could you speak about that? You might not have personal experiences to share, but anecdotal information would be a good second best!!!

    • Jay-Webmaster

      Hello Stan,

      Immersing yourself into a Spanish class is the best and probably the only way to truly learn Spanish. I have tried to contact one local school regarding that very topic and I have gotten the runaround from them so I don’t have first had experience or testimonials. But, I do know of people who have learned Spanish by immersing themselves and their success rate is much higher than those who don’t. I highly recommend you go to an immersion class, and please share your experience with us!

  2. If I can’t find a job in Puerto Rico, I may resort to going to Mexico– something I definitely don’t want to do. Either way, I need to learn Spanish. Am I practicing? Am I trying to learn? Um, no. So, this post is a good reminder that I need to get back to it!
    I use Duolingo, and love it. I’ve also done a few lessons in Mango Languages, but it too has gone by the wayside in my pursuit of laziness. I’ll definitely check out the resources you’ve provided above, because I’ve determined that Duolingo alone may not be the swiftest or most comprehensive path to fluency.
    I also like your suggestions about watching Spanish speaking TV and listening to songs in Spanish. I teach English as a second language (currently to Koreans) and always advise my students to watch TV shows and movies in English, even if they need the subtitles to follow along. I also recommend listening to books in English.
    One last note about making mistakes. I personally would be mortally embarrassed to make mistakes when speaking to a native Spanish speaker, and yet, never once has any of my students ever embarrassed themselves when making a mistake in English. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. I understand them almost all the time even though they don’t speak perfect English and they speak with a very heavy accent. We figure it out, and I’ve never once felt compelled to laugh at them for not using the right word or grammar. So, even though I would be super embarrassed to speak Spanish with a native Spanish speaker, the fact is, native speakers are really understanding about mistakes, and if they laugh it’s because they totally feel for you. They get that it’s hard to learn a foreign language. They’ve probably made the same mistakes you are making. They’re laughing with you not at you. At least, as a teacher of a foreign language, that’s been my experience. So it’s embarrassing, yes, but it shouldn’t be, because there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Just an encouraging word to learners out there (and maybe a little bit to me, too).
    Anyway, great article, and thanks for the resources. I’m newly inspired to try, try again to tackle Spanish.

    • Jay-Webmaster

      Hello Kathi!

      This is Jay. Please allow me to encourage you to try to learn Spanish. Learning a different language is very difficult but it can be done. When I moved to the US my English was pretty rough, I had a very thick accent and the words I chose were not always the right ones, there was lots of confusion and things lost in translation (I have to translate into Spanish in my head). To give you an example, a few weeks after I moved to the US I met a girl that was studying Agricultural Business but she called it “Ag Business”, when she first said that I thought she meant “EGG Business”! I was like What!? Why would anyone study the business of EGGS!? That doesn’t even make sense! Of course I didn’t say anything and it took me about 2 or 3 months to find out that it was Ag business and not egg business! I too was embarrassed and shy, but I had to learn English because if I wanted to do anything I had to do it in English. Several years later I occasionally ran into some people I had met when I first got there and their reaction was always the same “Wow Jay your accent is gone!”. You see, after a while I decided to always ask how do you say this, how do you say that, I listened carefully and asked to be corrected. It took courage and dedication, but now my conversational and written English is quite decent, especially when you realize that this is my second language.

      Think of all the other places you will be able to visit if you learn Spanish. Spanish is spoken in so many other countries! You would be able to visit other countries and speak to the locals in their native language! Plus of course, making your life easier here in Puerto Rico.

      I am so glad Angela has inspired you to try again, please do so and keep us posted on your progress!

      All the best!

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