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Why and how to learn spanish

Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud

Spanish Indo-European:Romance
For many americans, this is the first language they want to learn. For Europeans, it's more like the third or fourth. Nevertheless, if you already speak english, the attraction of spanish is very high, being understood in half a continent and many other places.

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Introduction - ©www.micheloud.com


This is one of the most generally useful language of the word, heir of a big if transient colonial empire, spoken in Europe, Latin America, but also in Africa and the USA.
Although not the main attraction of spanish, it can be a very beautiful language, romantic and macho, with particular sounds that are still manageable for most people.
Chic factor
Moderately chic in most of the world, speaking spanish fluently is in Europe a nice complement to another foreign language, even if it has the reputation of being "easy" and then not suited for the cleverest people (chic has somewhat stupid rules). In America, it seems to be better perceived, as is any foreign language that you learned the "hard way".  
Spain, all the Americas except for Canada, the US, Belize and Brasil, Spain and one country in Africa. You can live full time in most of the US speaking only spanish.
Regional variations
As it is spoken all over the world, the wide regional variations you could expect are there : in the Carribean or Chili, people eat the middle s's as in the Cuban song "Todo' lo' negro', tomamo' cafť !". In Madrid, the same s's are prounounced in a wet way that recalls snakes, and so on. In my humble opinion, the clearest spanish is to be heard in Mexico and Colombia. In any case, if you learn it in Madrid or Cuba, you will bear the scars of the place all your life : as pleasant as the accent could be, it is still pretty typical of the place. Nevertheless, for la paix des mťnages I emphasize that there's no "right" accent, that every place has its own and everything is relative.
Travel opportunities are great, with a whole continent do discover, a fascinating European country and thousands of people all over the world. Speaking spanish, especially in Latin America, will change your trip because you will be able the human part of the country much better : people are usually willing to discuss their country with foreigners and this can be the best memories of a trip.
Many excellent books (Borges, Garcia Marquez, ...), incredible music, great movies, many newspapers and TV channels. If you want to practice spanish alone, you have the choice.

One delightful aspect of this language is the wealth of proverbs it has : every language has proverbs, but which one can transform the common "L'habit ne fait pas le moine" in the colorful Aunque la mona de seda se vista, mona se queda.(Even if the she-monkey wears silk, she-monkey she remains) ? Many proverbs use strong alliterations in spanish, or internal rhymes like Tanto tienes, tanto vales (you are worth humanly what you are worth financially).


Difficulty - ©www.micheloud.com
Most of them are simple, with the exception of the jota and rolled r. These are easy to master for most people, but it takes some times to be able to speak rapidly and precisely (Guadalajara has both).
Very simple, especially if you already speak another romance language. Our american readers must accept that verbs can change with tenses and persons, but once you get that the system is relatively regular.
Not especially simple if you don't already know another romance language. Nevertheless, vocabulary is pretty analytical if you look close enough and can be mastered quite fastly.
Very simple, totally logical : you write as you speak, you speak as you write, even for the accents. I think this is the simplest orthograph I know or could think of and in my opinion this can't be a difficulty.
Overall difficulty
I rate this language as , that is,  very easy to learn, at least for speakers of other romance languages. The language is a simple, logical system and occasions to practice it are quite widespread, so you should not have hard time learning it unless your mother tongue is, say, thai.
Time needed
200 hours if you have a good method. At least, this is what it took me to reach total fluency with the FSI books (look below), and if you work with the same books at a reasonable speed, I can't see why you would need more.


Learning material - ©www.micheloud.com
Books and tapes
I would use either FSI spanish (to be ordered from Barron's Educational Series, much cheaper than Audioforum), 2 volumes :

Or Pimsleur Speak and Read Essential Spanish, much more expensive but also more modern. For about $800 you get 90 lessons (45 hours) that you can use in your car without any books. You can buy them from Simon and Schuster who bought Dr Pimsleur's business, but it's cheaper from Amazon :

I can also suggest to non romance languages speakers the following book, which introduces you to words category in order to help you increase your vocabulary :

You should choose your school carefully after you've worked your way through one of the methods described above. I made the mistake of picking the first person and I lost some time. If money has any value to you, you'd better go to Latin America, where you can hire excellent, university educated teachers for 4-10$ an hour. For this in Spain you don't buy a meal.
Many pages on the internet are in spanish, begin by spanish.yahoo.com or www.ozu.com.


Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud