The Nicaragua Series: How to Learn a Language

Fourth, I love Spanish and don’t want to forget what I’ve learned. I’m hoping that if we stay a full three months on our next trip, I’ll be fully conversational or even fluent by the end of it. I’m writing a post on language learning later today, so stay tuned 🙂

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I don’t feel like that’s far-fetched because I’m also doing Rosetta Stone for school credit, I occasionally use Fluencia to help expand my vocabulary, and I used to use Duolingo and Memrise, which helped give me a foundation to lift off of. (I would more highly recommend Memrise than Duolingo, especially if your goal is to learn correct Central American Spanish) I also have a number of friends from various places that I’ll occasionally call on if I’m confused about a word or usage. But immersion (which is living in a country and learning the language by listening) is by far the best way to learn.

If immersion is used in conjunction with a program to get you started, you may find yourself learning a lot faster. Immersion is initially quite hard, so having a basic foundation is good. But you need to learn to be flexible with what you learned through your program. Most times, the country you’re in will have a completely different accent, word usage, and slang than others, even bordering ones, and especially your program.

For example, Rosetta Stone has been teaching me the “correct” ways to say “Nice to meet you” in Latin American Spanish. That would be “Encantado de conocerlo” if you’re talking formally to a man, “Encantado de conocerla” if you’re talking formally to a woman, and “Encantado de conocerte” if you’re talking informally to a male or female.

However, I noticed through immersion that most people in Nicaragua use “mucho gusto” for any and all situations. So I consulted an interpreter friend and we clarified that I should be using this term, not the other ones.

Also, Nicaraguans tend to have very different accents. They drop the letter s, sometimes p turns into c, and Matagalpa has its own very distinct accent. For more info on the dialect of Spanish I’m learning, head to this site.

The number one main skill I’ve learned to learn a language is to listen.

Sometimes we I say something wrong, they’ll subtly correct me.

Many people will do this, especially when you’re in a place that isn’t blunt. We do it in the South, but they do it in Latin America even more.

If you maybe say something wrong, they will normally try to repeat exactly what you said, or some variation of it, except replacing your mistake with the correct alternative. It’s important to listen carefully to what they say after you say something, especially if you’re not sure it was correct. You may learn something!

Also, it may be helpful to research various verb forms. You need to learn the basic verb forms, which are “er,” “ir,” and “ar.” “Ar” is the most used as far as I can tell. Then you edit these endings to change what person it’s spoken from (first person, second person, etc.), how many people it’s talking about, or other specifics. This is the most important verb tip you can start out with. You can then start learning what happens when you out various other endings on it, like “te,” “me,” or “nos.”

It’s also important for you to try to pick up the accent as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if it takes a while of repeating, just work with someone until you can figure out the accent and start saying things correctly.

I’ve heard many Americans speak in Spanish in perfect Spanish vocabulary-wise, but their accent is horrible. People think that your accent is just who you are and you can’t control it. They would be wrong.

I used to say you guys. And I had no Southern accent at all.

Then I decided there was no reason to be that way, and ever since I’ve been saying y’all.

These Americans speaking Spanish are the same idea as a man from Africa speaking English in a heavy African accent.

To the rest of us, it sounds like he’s speaking his native language, but they’re speaking English!

We need to make sure we are easy to understand and don’t just understand and speak their language. It’s about the people, not the vocab stats or percentages or how many words you actually know. It’s about the fact that you can carry on a conversation effectively.

So start listening. Don’t ignore the people and ask the nearest English-speaker about it. Just listen. Many times Google Translate or any other translation service – even that of a person – won’t get the full meaning of the word. Many words either have multiple meanings in English, or vice versa. Some words may not even have an English equivalent!

I hope this helped. Be persistent in learning your language, and never give up. Enjoy it, and make new friends while you’re at it. (The last step has actually been one of the most important for me)

Thanks for tuning in!


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