Learning Spanish is one of the more important things on my ‘to do list’ before I leave for this trip. In retrospect, almost every traveler says they wish they knew more of the language before they set off on their trip. Not only does it make everyday life easier while on the road but it also makes the experiences much more satisfying and personal, as you’re able to connect with the people you meet. I took Spanish in High School and a little bit in College, but I will admit, I didn’t really take it seriously.. I wish I had. That combined with the fact that I almost never speak it, means I’m far from fluent. There’s 4 ways I am going about fixing this:
The first way is using a Spanish software application. I have access to Rosetta Stone for free through my work, so I gave that a try. I completed the first 2 Levels and expanded my vocabulary a bit but I don’t think I really learned much. Overall, it’s an okay program for learning Spanish but I sought out other alternatives. Another co-worker of mine was using a new program called Fluenz to learn Italian. I had never heard of this company/program as they are fairly new. He had already completed a few sections in it and said that it was MUCH MUCH better than Rosetta Stone.. Just looking at the reviews on Amazon for Fluenz compared to Rosetta Stone was enough to convince me, so I decided to give it a shot. At $400+ it’s not something I wanted to try and regret. My buddy had been wanting to learn Spanish for a while as well, so I asked him if he wanted to split the cost, to which he said yes. Fluenz comes with a serial # which allows up to 3 separate users/computers to access the software at any time. This is good because it allows you to split the cost with up to 3 people; drastically bringing down the price of the program. So far I have only completed a few sections of Level 1, but I already find it to be an excellent program and well worth the price. Not only does it have sections which pertain to travel related material (such as how to order a few beers at the bar or food from a road side stand) but I also find that I am retaining much more of what I learned. Overall, I highly recommend it.
The second way I am learning Spanish is through the use of a Pen-Pal. I know, this sounds like some lame 3rd grade stuff, but it really does help and has come a long way with the help of the internet. I am using a site called MyLanguageExchange.com which has members from all over the world, who are looking to learn another language just like you. Simply create a profile with the language(s) you’re fluent in, the language(s) you want to learn and it will set you up with people who you can converse with via email. I message them in Spanish and they message me in English. In addition to just talking with each other about whatever, we help each other with language related questions such as grammar, etc. It’s a great way to learn Spanish, make some new e-friends and maybe even some friends who I’ll meet on the road when I’m in South America. If you’ve got the time, I recommend checking it out.
The third way I am learning Spanish is through the use of good old fashion books and studying. I’m trying to avoid physical copies of books because I’d like to take them with me on the trip, so I am looking for books/guides in digital format that I can load on to my tablet. So far I have found a few free ones. WikiTravel.org and WikiBooks.org have some beginners guides which are fairly good and best of all, Free! LonelyPlanet has a Latin American Spanish Phrasebook out now but it’s currently only available in a hard copy.. I’m hoping they release a digital PDF version like they have for their Portuguese book. If they do, I’ll likely pick up a copy. There’s also a bunch of Spanish language programs on the Android/Apple market which I might download and use while on the road to supplement my learning.
The final way I am going about learning a new language is through the attendance of a Full Immersion Language school. These types of school are pretty common along the gringo trail in Central and South America. They are usually offered in 1 week blocks of instruction (5x days/week) and you can take as many weeks as you want. Prices vary by locations and hours per day of instruction. I have my eye set on one particular school in San Pedro, Guatemala called Corazon Maya Spanish School. For $100/week, I get 4 hours of 1-on-1 instruction with my own teacher for 5 days. They also provide accommodations via your own bungalow (with bathroom and WiFi!). In addition to formal instruction, they provide other interesting activities such as guided trips through the markets where you learn about the local food and cooking lessons where all the students and teachers get together to prepare a traditional meal on the weekend. Sounds like a great time to me! I’ll likely spend a week or 2 in Guatemala attending school and maybe another week somewhere in South America at a different school.