In our Cheap & Useful Resources for Learning Spanish post we shared the methods we used to study Spanish before we came to South America. Although I still think these are useful tools I now realise we were missing an essential element – actually speaking in Spanish with native speakers. We had no actual practical experience so were completely unprepared for the fast and accented language spoken by locals in Buenos Aires.
Two months later and we have improved immensely. We have a long way to go to fluency but we can communicate in most situations, which is essential now that we are travelling in Paraguay where hardly any English is spoken.
These are the Spanish learning methods that we used during our two months in Buenos Aires.
We spent three weeks attending classes for 20 hours a week at Ibero Spanish School in the centre of Buenos Aires. There are many schools to choose from and we went for this one as it was cheaper than the others ($100 a week rather than $160 at most other places) and we also met someone who’d had a good experience there.
If you are looking for group classes we would recommend it. The class sizes are from 3 – 9 people with the lower levels likely to have bigger class sizes. We both felt that we were placed in the class appropriate to our level (although the test was a written grammar test and not spoken).
We learnt a lot, especially grammar, but we do have some reservations about group classes. Four hours a day did feel tiring, and we didn’t get as much speaking practice as would be ideal (it was partly my fault as I wasn’t confident speaking in a group). Simon in the beginner class also felt that things went a bit too slowly for him.
After three weeks of group classes and a week break we started one-to-one private lessons with Ñ de Español, a network of teachers. We had on average three lessons a week for three weeks, and found that lessons of 1.5 hours worked best. Lessons cost around 50 – 60 pesos an hour depending on how many you have per week.
These worked better for us as we were able to fit them around other things we were doing and we got a lot out of the sessions. You can focus on your own issues and you get a lot more conversation practice. As a beginner, Simon felt a dramatic increase in the amount he understood and in his confidence in speaking after being forced to listen to and speak Spanish constantly for an hour.
We’ve come to realise more and more, especially after reading the Language Hacking Guide, that the only way to improve at a language is to talk, no matter what your level is. It seems obvious but before coming to South America we didn’t think we were ‘ready’ to have a conversation and many people feel the same: it’s much easier to just talk to your iPod audio course.
We used the Conversation Exchange website to find someone in Buenos Aires who wanted to practice their English in exchange for helping us with our Spanish. We met a lovely guy who we met regularly for coffee or dinner and chatted in a mixture of Spanish and English. The site has people from all over the world, so it’s likely you’ll be able to find someone in your home town. If not there are many websites that put you in touch with native speakers to practice over Skype.
Spanglish is like speed dating for language learners where locals and English speakers meet in a bar and chat in pairs – five minutes in English, five minutes in Spanish and then switch to another partner. We didn’t attend Spanglish until our last week because we were rather apprehensive about it but we wished we had started sooner as it was so much fun.
You meet at least five new people from really diverse backgrounds, ages (we chatted with people aged 20 – 70) and language levels. Everyone is really understanding if your Spanish isn’t brilliant as they are all learners too.
We thought we’d end up having the same conversation over and over again but it doesn’t really turn out like that – each conversation ends up having its own focus and we covered lots of interesting topics. We felt surprisingly fluent and confident – the relaxed environment (and the drink included in the price) encourage you to just go for it.
Language Hacking Guide
During our last week in Buenos Aires we were inspired by the Language Hacking Guide to push our Spanish to the next level. We realised that learning a language is all about communication and speaking it is the most important part. It motivated us to attend Spanglish despite our fears, to speak Spanish together as much as possible (50 – 70% of the time), and to find opportunities to speak with locals whenever we could.
We also learnt techniques like using the Anki programme for learning vocabulary and lots of other useful tips. For more information read our review of the Language Hacking Guide or details of our 7 Day Language Hacking Challenge.
We are now travelling in Paraguay, Northern Argentina and onwards to Bolivia. We won’t have access to a teacher for a while so we will have to be proactive about our own learning and keep pushing ourselves to speak more and more.
Are you planning your travels for 2018? See our Travel Resources page for our favourite tools and gear to help you plan the perfect trip.