Cómo se dice...

When I moved to Ecuador a few months ago I needed to learn Spanish quickly. Although being surrounded by the language has been a great help, many of the tricks I used to learn could also be used to mimic the experience of immersion.

Start here: Duolingo I was initially far too intimidated to practice speaking with native speakers. My accent was terrible! My verb conjugations were a mess! To gain confidence I can’t recommend Duolingo highly enough, despite criticisms of its nonsensical phrases seemingly lacking real-world application*. The app’s combination of drilling and silliness helped me overcome my fear of speaking Spanish with others.

Think about it It’s said that dreaming in a language indicates fluency. Though I haven’t yet dreamt in Spanish, I’m getting closer by forcing translations of my thoughts.

Do I have a song in my head? Can I fumble through its translation, however rudimentary? Probably. When I cook, I translate the recipe in my head while prepping the food. This gives me plenty of time to mull over potential translations.

Google translate is your BFF All those nerdy songs I was translating in my head? That time I didn’t know how to say eggplant in Spanish? I looked it up on Google translate. Syntax-wise it’s not perfect but I generally trust it for single-word translations.

El hombre-araña sube el rascacielos Once I’d learn a word I’d force myself to use it in a sentence. Once again, the sillier, the better: I remember outlandish sayings precisely because they’re different.

Make it fun I built a quick Angular app one day to quiz myself on translations. It didn’t take much time to build and was fun to play with, and show off around the office, for an afternoon. The more I incorporated Spanish into everyday activities the faster I reinforced vocabulary.

Write it down! I’ve had plenty of opportunities to write emails in Spanish for work (with gratuitous use of Google translate, of course). Writing is another way to practice using whole sentences and phrases with a real audience– without the pressure of actually having to speak with that audience.

As is the case with learning anything there’s no substitute for practice. The tricks I’ve used have only helped make studying more fun– which, in turn, has made practice much easier.

*My personal favorite: soy un pingüino.