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Study Spanish in Latin America

Studying Spanish in Latin America. . . Again

I have returned to Latin America and to the study of the Spanish language as well. I have never really studied this language formally, and I basically only know what is needed for traveling (which is actually a good amount). I have always been annoyed with myself that I do not speak this language any better. After nearly two years of total travel time in Spanish speaking countries, I would imagine that my proficiency should be way higher than it is.
So now I study.

The Spanish language has never really sat well with me. I have a difficult time rolling my R’s (in fact, my tongue is so short and fat that it may not be a real possibility), but I keep trying none the less; thinking, perhaps, that one day I will surprise myself and say the word for dog and be understood. I know that this will happen someday, I know that this language will eventually come together, it is just a matter of time. I think I know more than what I think I do- I read well- now I just need to go out into the streets and use it.

I have now made a teacher out of Mira, who can laugh at me for everything that I say incorrectly or misunderstand. She speaks Spanish well, and is essentially my “long-haired dictionary.”

Learning a language is a humorous endeavor. There is no way that you can avoid filling the role of the fool while learning someone else’s language. In fact, openly being the fool actually seems to assist the learning process, because I know that I must make mistakes to really learn.

So laugh at me, jest, and sneer, because I am going to finally put this language together. I have too many building blocks to not stack them higher and higher.

When I first traveled to South America in the summer of 2000, I did not know how to learn a foreign language. I approached Spanish as if it were a math or a science, I did not know then that languages are alive and are more like music than anything tangible or measurable.

I learned a lot of Spanish words during this first journey, but the song of the language eluded me. I knew how to make random sounds and starts at phrases, but I tried to assembly them as if I were speaking English. I was young, and had never really studied a living language before- I knew nothing else. I did not know the beat, I could not sing the song. I tried to learn Spanish through studying conjugation charts and cutting and pasting various separated endings upon pieces of words. I was thinking too much. I was treating the language as a mathematical equation. I confused myself.

I kept returning to South America for the next three years. My Spanish improved, even though I never sought instruction. I could travel fluidly and have basic conversation. My Spanish was travel worthy, and I thought that I would keep improving, but I did not.

It seems as if when traveling you only have a certain portions of a language that is really open to be practiced. I simply said the same things and had the same conversations too many times to improve. It was an odd position to be in as, for travel purposes, I spoke Spanish well, but for everything else I was awkward.

After these South America years I began traveling in Asia. I found that I really took to China and studying Mandarin. I learned a few tricks to learning language at this time. I learned how to not think and just speak.

I have now set myself to really learning Spanish.

Mira, do not speak to me any other way!

Photos from Central America

Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
Heredia, Costa Rica
January 25, 2008

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Filed under: Central America, Language

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3167 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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