Advice from a Spanish teacher and her students
by Sandra Gonet
Learning the language of the country in which you choose to live can be difficult but is not impossible. Usually, expats start studying Argentine Spanish (which is referred to as Castellano in Argentina) with much enthusiasm and excitement, but gradually a sort of frustration and disappointment can take hold, which can cause some to give up.
I’m an Argentine and I have 26 years of experience as a Spanish teacher for foreign people, so I know that expats learn slowly and, sometimes, it’s very difficult for them to assimilate and understand the language.
I started giving Argentine Spanish lessons in Paris in 1985. I would have never imagined at that moment that my life would be connected to expats forever. But it turned out to be, and I’m grateful for a life that has given me the opportunity to connect with all the expats and students I’ve met over the years. And while I teach Argentine Spanish to them, I learn a lot about them: their culture, their customs, their fears, and their anxieties.
There is no doubt that as an expat you should learn the language if you want to live in Argentina. The best reason to learn the language of the country you are living in is to avoid being isolated and alone. Language builds bridges between people, and allows you to reach out to locals, with many positive benefits.
My advice if you are considering learning Spanish is as follows:
To start with you need to choose a recommended Spanish school with a quality Spanish tutor. Pay attention: some websites are very cool but they are not synonymous with quality. Find a school that is recommended by someone who has studied in it.
No matter whether you get it right or wrong, try to communicate in Spanish whenever you can. I always advise my students to practice Spanish in a bar or restaurant with a waiter; in the taxi with the taxi driver; in the street with people; with a simple word or sentences such as: “hola”, “gracias”, “¿cómo estás?”, etc. It sounds simple, but these words or simple sentences help you to lose the feeling of embarrassment, and to start trusting in yourself. And besides, making mistakes can be funny and endearing so don’t be afraid of it.
And third, don’t feel frustrated when you feel that you have not made the progress you expected – it will come. Learning Spanish is like climbing a mountain: sometimes you feel as if you are climbing straight to the top; and sometimes, you will be on a plateau, for one or two weeks, and then you can start climbing again as you expected.
Be positive! It’s never too late to start learning Spanish. And it is certain that learning Spanish will open a new, different and wonderful world for you.
Feedback from the students
Bastian (Aarhus, Denmark)
"It is always difficult to learn another language, but Spanish is not the hardest to learn. I could use my English and French to recognize similar words in Spanish which helped me to learn faster. It is also important to have a good teacher. I learned enough to live and speak with the Argentines that I met at my stay in Buenos Aires. As an expat in Argentina it really was crucial that I learned to speak some Spanish. It helped me to become friends with Argentines and to have a normal everyday life in Buenos Aires. The better I learned to speak Spanish, the better became my stay as an expat. My advice to new expats is to live together with people who speak Spanish."
Andreas (Berlin, Germany)
"Was it hard to learn Spanish? Yes! As with any other language, learning Spanish to become fluent requires many hours of studying and practice. After three months I'm still not fluent. However, the Spanish I have learned so far definitely helps me in Argentina, for meeting people, staying up-to-date, and learning about the culture. If you want to learn Spanish, I recommend taking private Spanish classes. It is important that you find a skilled Spanish teacher, who knows how to develop your skills best possible. Other practical tips: try to watch a bit of TV every day, browse the newspaper and small-talk whenever possible (in shops, restaurants and in supermarkets)."
Stefanie Torrieri (New York, USA)
"Learning Spanish is mildly difficult, mainly because of grammar. The irregular verb conjugations are the most difficult. I became fluent after two years of immersion in the language. Practice is the key to learning. Practice both listening and speaking. My advice to anyone wanting to learn Spanish in Argentina is to find a school you trust. Practice daily and connect with locals who are interested in helping you practice. Read. LISTEN to music, listen to the radio. Don't forget to rest your mind a bit because learning a new language is overwhelming and tiresome. In fact, after a few months I felt my speaking got worse because I was overwhelmed with learning. Find the balance between pacing yourself yet challenging yourself enough to progress."
► Read more in the Argentina expat guide