As of this writing, I am on a family trip to Spain—a trip that unexpectedly got extended for me after I caught COVID-19. Catching a disease during a vacation is an awful experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, but there is a silver lining. My parents were already going to stay in Spain longer than me and my sister, which means I am staying for a few more days and get extra time to practice speaking Spanish in a place where it’s the language of the majority. (Actually, my trip has been in the Catalan-speaking part of Spain, but Spanish is just as common in the major cities like Barcelona.)
Note that the tips in this blog post don’t just apply to learning Spanish. They apply to learning any language! Also note that I will use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) a few times in this post: the sound represented by a letter surrounded by slashes means what you probably think it does, unless otherwise stated.
My Prior Impression of Spanish
I’m no stranger to learning foreign languages. For one thing, English isn’t the only language I learned since I was a baby. German is my mother tongue in a literal sense: it’s my mother’s native language, and while my German vocabulary isn’t as fluent as in English, I’d say my skills in it are still pretty good. I also learned French extensively in school, and though my French skills could use some work these days, I spoke it a few times during my trip because some strangers I encountered didn’t know English but could speak French. I even took Chinese classes during high school for a while, but I don’t remember much of the language aside from a few words and phrases, so I don’t count it. Learning languages runs in my family too: my parents met in a Russian college class, and my grandfather on my mom’s side was a French teacher, for a few examples.
Because of all this prior experience, I had often viewed Spanish as a boring language; the one that you learn if you need a foreign language credit at school and want a quick A. I imagined Spanish wouldn’t need any real effort to pick up, especially because in the United States, some signs are in both English and Spanish. But once I learned of this trip last month, I decided to take some time to learn the basics of the language in earnest, and I got much deeper into it than I would have thought. It’s also a much more fascinating language than I expected, and I’ll soon go over that.Continue reading