On getting by with just basic Spanish (or not :)

Translating a text message from Telcel.
Translating a text message from Telcel. $200 pesos is about $17 US dollars.

I’m actually a little surprised at how far I can go with only a very basic level of Spanish language skills. Here’s where I’m at:

  • I can order food, ask directions, bargain a little in the market, go grocery shopping, drop off my laundry to be done, find things on a map, ask the taxi driver how much it will be (it’s always about $3), talk about the weather, and finally… the hardest thing…. get a SIM card for my iPhone and get it activated!

  • Of course, much of that is because I’m combining speaking with gestures, context, and the kindness of people who are listening to me stumble through!

  • I can ask questions about most things, but I usually only understand about one third of the answer!

I studied Spanish in high school (so many years ago!), made short trips to Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador in the past, took a few adult ed classes this past year (thanks to my kind teacher, Carlos!), got an “intercambio” partner from a great program at MIT (¡Hola Marcelo!) and practiced with him once a week for 3 months before I came. We are going to continue meeting via Skype. He’s from Ecuador and is a grad student at MIT. He’s much better at English than I am at Spanish. We help each other.

I’m really glad I did all of that before I moved to Oaxaca. But of course now I realize how much I really don’t know! Everyone says that of course after six months I’ll be conversing easily. We’ll see! I’m getting ready to sign up for some intensive classes here, as soon as I finish getting settled. I would really like to get to the level of real conversations. It’s always been a goal of mine to speak another language.

And, according to this New York Times article, “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter,” being bilingual has profound positive effects on your brain and shields against dementia in old age!

Here are my favorite apps related to language learning:

  • Brainscape for iPhone or web. Smart flashcards, create your own or download decks…. I do both.
  • WordReference Dictionary for iPhone. Based on the fantastic web tool at Wordreference.com. Tells you so much more, related words, different meanings, etc.
  • Google Translate for iPhone contains many words and phrases not in the usual dictionary, but it’s also not always accurate. You need to be online to use it. Still, it’s very helpful.
  • Languages for iPhone. Includes several different foreign language dictionaries and works offline!
My favorite apps for learning Spanish

My favorite blog about language learning:

  • Fluent in 3 Months by Benny, the Irish Polyglot
  • He speaks several languages and encourages jumping in and speaking right away as the best way to learn.

Fluent in 3 Months

I recommend all of these if you are learning another language!