As crazy as it may sound, one of the goals to improve my Spanish was to unconsciously think in Spanish (something I did regularly as a kid). I knew that in order for that to happen I would have to start thinking consciously in Spanish first. For a few months, I got really frustrated when my impulsive thoughts and inner monologues came out in English. After 3 months in Buenos Aires, I was starting to get skeptical about ever regaining my Spanish fluency from childhood.
“I thought you were from Argentina until I heard you speak” was a phrase that was steadily killing my spirit. I guess I just expected to get my Spanish back with less effort.
I figured “as long as I’m living here I’ll surely get it back.”
WRONG! I wasn’t counting on knowing so many U.S. expats and only needing to speak Spanish to order my daily fix of empanadas.
Not having time to take classes with LV Studio can make your speaking level stale once you get past the basic steps of learning Spanish. Teaching English in Buenos Aires and working for Spanglish left me little time to proactively work on mi Castellano.
I was stumbling over my words at the weekly Spanglish events and struggling to retain the vocabulary I was learning. This happened until I started applying Spanish to my everyday activities.
Doing this keeps people from saying, “I don’t have time to practice my Spanish outside of Spanglish Exchange.”
It’s crucial to regularly exercise production and comprehension skills to maintain and improve your Spanish. Here are some tips on how to do this throughout your day.
This should take the least amount of effort, while living in Buenos Aires, since every street sign and ad is en Castellano. Also, try reading aloud so you can practice your pronunciation. This is crucial when using long words that can be hard to say quickly, like familiarizado. Practice situations you would use it in:
“Si estoy familiarizado con Spanglish en Recoleta.”
If you’re not into local music—like cumbia, tango or Argentine rock—you can still listen to the news. This helped me get used to keeping up with the fast pace at which Argentines speak. It’s such an effective manner of improving your listening skills because it gives you a visual reference to what’s being talked about. It also gives you more stuff to talk about when you go to Spanglish Exchange. This also helps you pick up new phrases. However, you may still need to keep a dictionary near the TV to look up words you’re not familiarizado with.
If you’re too busy to take a class, a good exercise to improve your writing skills is making your to-do lists in Spanish. This can help you learn new vocabulary to explain to people at Spanglish Exchange what you do during the week.
Next time you go out to buy groceries, write your list in Spanish. If you don’t know a word, use this as a chance to look it up and learn a new one.
Emails and texts should be done in Spanish as well. You should make a conscious effort to enviar anything you can in Spanish (as long as your recipient understands).
Even if you don’t know anyone else in Buenos Aires, and the only chance you get to practice speaking outside of Spanglish Exchange is at the grocery store and on the colectivo, you can always practice with yourself. As crazy as this may sound and look—if you do it in public—you will notice the benefits next time you do speak with another person. Don’t know what to talk to yourself about in Spanish? You can start off with multiple step processes. This can include directions, grocery shopping and cooking. These all use practical vocabulary that you can use in A and B conversations.
Start saying your inner monologue in Spanish as well. Next time you’re looking for something, instead of thinking:
“Where did I leave that damn pen?”
Say: “Donde deje esa maldita lapicera?”
Directions are easy to think of in Spanish because, even in English, you usually process them slower and more deliberately than more impulsive thoughts. When you’re reviewing the directions to the new Spanglish venue at Maxim, do it in Spanish:
“Queda dos cuadras de Funes y La Maga en Borges.”
Doing math is something that we usually do pretty fast in our native tongue so you may want to avoid this until you’re thinking a little quicker in Spanish. I’m still working on this step.
Remember to have patience with yourself. This is no overnight process. It wasn’t until about a month ago when I woke up and my first thoughts were:
“Toda via tengo que preparer la clase de Guillermo! También tengo que enviar un email a mi jefa!”
I was tripping out so much over what I had to do that it wasn’t until I jumped out of bed that I realized:
“Estoy pensando en Castellano!”