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How I learned spanish in six months and how you can learn it too

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In 1997 I felt that speaking 3 languages was not enough, and decided that speaking spanish fluently would be a nice thing. I already had some clear ideas on how to learn best languages, so I began to look for a self-study method of high caliber. I found an ad in the Economist which advertised for method written by the FSI, the language teaching arm of the US Department of State. They had one for spanish which I decided to try.

The thing looked pretty disappointing when I opended the parcel, 2 typewritten manuals looking like declassified documents from the 60's, and many, many tapes. But, as you know, the important is the content, not the form. I quickly realised that this method was a good example.

I started at  lesson one, with the tape playing. It began :

Listen to this word :


Listen to this other word :


Can you hear the difference ?
Listen again :




The first word means potato and the second daddy. The only difference is in the intonation.

The tape continued its guided tour of the spanish language, very cleverly beginning by simple examples and then letting you infer the rule, then explaining the difference. I soon reached the end of the tape, thrilled by the ease with which I had learned by heart my first dialog. In the evening, I could not help but start another lesson and went on during the night, making those replacement drills at loud voice on after the other. At the end of the first week I was already able to make respectable small talk with perfect prononunciation (I was told so), and I had not written a single line and my eagerness to learn was not diminished my an ounce !

I went on and on, soon finishing the first book and moved to the other one. And then I stopped, having my exams to pass and then some travel to do. I stopped for about 6 weeks (I do not recommend it, but it happens) and then said to myself : Francois, you're really dumb not do it more seriously. You love this method and it's working. So I began again, but now at the increased speed of one lesson a day (recommended was one lesson a week). I took me 2-3 hours of careful study, with a part I could do while driving. At this reckless speed I soon finished the second book, and began to work on the 2 advanced tomes, which came with many tapes as well.

I realised that total fluency was not far from the last lesson, but that I still would need to talk with someone to check if my spanish was really functional and the king was not naked. For weeks I hesitated on the country where I would go, and finally decided for Mexico, the best blend I found of excellent spanish (unlike Cuba), very rich culture (unlike Chile), and relative convenience for the tourist (unlike Colombia).

When I picked up the phone to book a room in Mexico City,  I did not even thought of what I was going to say. The spanish flew from my lips without hesitation, and the deal was closed.

In Mexico I found a woman who said she could give me some spanish lessons, a thing I wanted to do to ask some questions I had and make some specialised trade dialogs I could have to make in the future. She made a little test at the beginning, and soon let me lead the lessons as she did not find anything worth working on except some sporadic errors.                                                             

For two weeks I talked with the Mexicans about their rich story, current events, customs and culture, I read the national press, bought books and visited the country, all of this made possible by my self study.

So why is this story important to you ? It means that you can learn to speak spanish fluently by self study, learning at your rythm and in less than 6 months if you work 2 hours a day. I used a method created by the Department of State, and I'm not working in any publishing house. This is really my experience and I think it can be reproduced by any normally intelligent, motivated person.

The method I bought is available by Audio Forum, a dealer of language learning methods. However, I later discovered that Barron's sold the same program for a 70% lower price.

This method has been developped to train diplomats before they went in Latin American countries, and was first published in the 60's by the Foreign Service Institute, the language teaching section of the United States Departement of State.

Tell me if you used this advice  !

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