By Dinah E., Auxiliar de Conversación in Madrid 2019/2020-2020/2021.
Moving to Madrid with a Couple Spanish Words
I left my country equipped with just a few Spanish words that I have learned from my parents and relatives. I also had basic, intermediate, and advanced Spanish when I was in college, but none of them got stuck in my head because I never had the chance to practice some conversations with native speakers. My mom and her family spoke it fluently, but it’s different when I immersed myself in a country where Spanish is its official language. I’ve got no choice but to speak it because not everyone speaks English. Besides, it is a beautiful language!
My first contact with Spanish people
My first encounter with the Spaniards was at my layover in Frankfurt, Germany. Everyone around me spoke Spanish! It got me excited because their banter was so contagious. I felt like I was part of their group, yet I wasn’t. I think there were only 2 of us who weren’t Spaniards. It was strange because 24 hours before, I was with people who spoke my language, and here I was 24 hours after, surrounded by people who spoke a different language. Some of them smiled at me, and some said something to which I did my best to understand and responded with the only word that I could remember at that time, si.
My Arrival in Spain
When I reached the airport, the reality of zero proficiency in Spanish sunk in. I looked for signs that were in English but instead, saw some signs that say salida. That word became the first Spanish word that I’ve learned here, apart from the few words that I already know. The fact that people were going in that direction meant that it was the exit. Thanks to common sense! It got me to where I am now.
How to learn some Spanish word’s day by day in Madrid
As I was lining up for the bus that would take me to my school, I would often hear people say pase to people behind them or people they feel needed to get on the bus first. Then, I understood that it meant go-to. That was the 2nd word that I learned.
The first few days that I went to the grocery store were an ordeal because I had to translate every word that I saw on the products, and sometimes Google translates it differently. Then, I learned my 3rd word, bolsa, as I was paying for my purchases which meant, bag. If you think that I bought all my stuff correctly, then you are wrong! I had a lot of mistakes. I bought a shower gel instead of body lotion! A lot of confusion there!
I would say that it’s easy to increase your vocabulary and learn simple phrases and sentences from the people on the streets and shops, and from the mistakes that you might eventually make. Learning a language is also learning by experience.
I Learn Spanish Words from my Little Students
The best group that has contributed to this experience are my dearest students from the lower Primary. They always seek my help whenever they do their exercises which is how I learned the words, ayúdame. They are so cute when they say these precious words. I would gently tell them to say in English, “Can you help me, please?”. I was quietly learning Spanish while teaching them English. It’s like a language exchange but with them not knowing it. I learned several words from them, especially when they knew that I didn’t know any Spanish.
Could you imagine a 1st grader suggesting to the teacher to teach me Spanish? The next time we had the class, he started teaching me. I was so amused. Who’s the language assistant now? Should it be me? I find it easy to understand them because they don’t speak as fast as the adults do. Sometimes, I find myself thinking that perhaps I should ask the Language teacher to join her class. She’ll probably think I’m crazy! But seriously, it’s the same thing as learning a language from a language school with a twist.
My Recommendation: Taking some Spanish Classes or a Spanish Course
A few websites and resources that I use to learn Spanish in Madrid
What I find challenging to learn Spanish in Madrid are the speaking and listening skills. Currently, I am having Spanish lessons online and doing some self-studying. I consider that is one of the best ways of learning Spanish as foreign.
I bought a book in Spanish for beginners, written by Juan Fernández. He is from Granada and a former Spanish teacher at a University in London for more than 20 years. He created the website – 1001 Reasons to Learn Spanish. It has podcasts, activities, stories, and books, and some free and paid lessons. He has a lot of YouTube videos that are entertaining and interesting to watch. I like his methodology because he focuses on a particular grammar structure and repeats that structure in his stories, which works well with memory retention.
Another resource is Spanish Like a Pro by Julio Foppoli, ESOL and Spanish teacher with over 25 years of experience in Argentina and the United States. He creates videos using puppets as the characters in his stories. Unlike other listening videos, these puppets talk at a pace similar to that of the native speakers. Comprehension questions come along with these videos.
Aside from these, I try to watch movies once a week and tv shows every day in Spanish. I may not understand everything, but the important thing is I get the gist of the stories. I believe that this is one of the most considerable pieces of advice that I have if you want to learn English in Madrid.
Based on these materials and my online lessons, I think that I am improving my Spanish. It’s not as easy as others think it is with my role as an Auxiliar de Conversación with ConversaSpain, where I have to switch from English to Spanish and vice versa. It’s not easy to visualize the grammar structure and the conjugation of the countless regular and irregular verbs in your mind as you struggle to come up with a response to a question spoken in Spanish. Furthermore, it’s not easy to remember all of these lessons with just a snap of your fingers, but it is achievable with your willingness and commitment to learning the language.
I hope that one day I would be able to have fluency and speak Spanish with confidence. For now, I am quite satisfied with my level thanks to the methods I have used to learn Spanish in Madrid!