By Monica Orjuela:
For the majority of my life I could not communicate with an entire side of my family as they did not speak English and I did not speak Spanish. And I know I’m not the only one. I see so many first generation Americans growing up completely disconnected from their culture partly as an effort to assimilate but also because it’s really hard to preserve culture in a multi-ethnic home with one parent from the dominant culture. Learning Spanish later in life was one of the best things I ever did and I wanted to share some of the resources I have used along the way to encourage others to do the same.
1. https://www.babbel.com/ – this website is subscription-based and costs only $5/month. There’s a focus on grammar with practical everyday and specialized topics including healthcare. Learning is done through reading, writing, and speaking. Of all the apps/online systems I’ve tried, this has been the easiest to make time for and the best quality for the price.
2. Netflix. I have a love/hate relationship with Netflix as I think it can be a total time waster BUT everything in moderation and I have loved watching some of my favorite shows/movies in Spanish. I watched Criminal Minds and Narcos in Spanish with Spanish subtitles so I could get accustomed to comprehending through listening- which was the hardest for me- with the help of visual prompts. Now post-living in Colombia, it has been a helpful way to maintain.
3. Music. I love working out to the Colombia top 50 Spotify playlist. The perfect tempo to run to WHILE practicing Spanish. win-win. My friends and I also take salsa and bachata classes from time to time and go dancing on the occasional Friday/Saturday night which is such a fun way to stay connected to the culture.
4. Coffee Break Spanish on Spotify. Amazing discovery! These are 5-10 minute mini lessons where a native Spanish speaker provides Spanish classes to an English speaking student and we get to listen in. It’s a brilliant structure for learning. The lessons cover both general grammar concepts as well as unique insights into trends in language and ways that common use strays from textbook rules. I get to practice my listening skills and there’s often opportunities to practice speaking as well. I listen to episodes here and there in the car and it’s been wonderful. I can’t believe this is FREE because it also goes for over $300 dollars online.
5. Reading – I have a side by side English/Spanish Bible and this has been helpful to read a passage in Spanish and have access to the English translation to make sure I am understanding everything. I’ve also read Harry Potter and some other Latin American classics in Spanish. This is so hard and requires a ton of patience – especially while i was still very much learning. But SUCH an accomplished feeling when I finished. Even if you do not understand every word, a word-by-word translation is not necessary. Strive to grasp overall concepts and ideas. The library has a ton of different reading levels available!
6. Practice. For a while, I found a woman in Mexico to Skype with for $10/hr which was helpful. My Dad found out though and laughed so hard. “Why would you pay someone to speak in Spanish with you when your old man calls you all the time and can do the same thing!?” We made a pact we would only speak in Spanish from then on so I canceled that service and 2 years later, I think we’ve held to this 90% of the time? Thanks Carlos Enrique Orjuela! I also practice with friends and patients at the hospital whenever I have the opportunity.
7. Itunes U has been such a great find. There are free lectures from Universities and Professors from all over the world. There’s a series called “Storytelling: Colombian Style” where students from a University in Colombia share short, creative writing pieces they wrote. I get to practice listening as well as pick up on colloquial phrases and style of speaking. Another great series is from Tecnológico de Monterrey, called “Educación Médica Continua; Pediatría.” Here I can listen to Medical School lectures on topics regarding Pediatric Medicine which helps me both learn specific terms relevant to my work, but also grow in my understanding of the care and conditions of pediatric patients in the hospital setting. This is wildly helpful to grow in your vocabulary of whatever industry you work in.
8. Immersion. This is by far the most helpful but also the most difficult to find time for. BUT, if you find yourself with the opportunity, I highly recommend the immersion program I did for 2 months in Colombia. They offer 4 hours of class each day, weekly salsa classes, excursions around the city every Friday, and have the option to pair students in host homes. The course is for “extranjeros” so my classmates were from all over the world, mostly in their late 20s and 30s but open to all ages. You can take classes for as little as a week and as long as would like. We were put in groups of 5-6 based on our level and practiced grammar, speaking, reading, and writing. Here’s the website: https://www.unisabana.edu.co/departamento-de-lenguas-y-c…/…/
Mention my name and I think you will get 10% off tuition.
*I also studied Spanish in High School and minored in it in college. And although that laid a HUGE foundation for my Spanish learning – I was far from fluent when I graduated.
If you try any of these, would love to hear your thoughts! Also, please share some of your favorite resources for studying language!