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Frustration learning Spanish?

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JasonWriter
6/25/2016 15:42 EST

Just curious to hear people's trials and tribulations in learning Espanol. I'm about 5 weeks out from arriving in Medellin, and I've been studying/online-practicing Spanish just about every day for the past 2 months. On my previous trips to Latin America, I brushed up on Spanish 2-4 weeks in advance, so I'm doing a little better this time, at least. In my limited experience with trying to learn a language, and then going to a country that speaks that language, one of the many frustrations can be when you *think* you're making progress, and *think* you finally-- victory!-- have one aspect of the language down pat, and then someone's like "Haha. What the hell are you saying?"

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BrandonBP
6/25/2016 19:04 EST

A lot of people say Colombia is a great place to practice Spanish. I don't agree at all. I spent 3 months in Ecuador a couple years ago, and could understand them pretty well, but as soon as I crossed the border into Colombia, I couldn't understand anything.

You'll find that every country has their own accents and words. What they call something in Mexico is likely not what they call it in Colombia. They all have their own slang, and it becomes VERY frustrating.

A date asked me one night for something. I had no idea what she meant. She did a flicking motion with her hand that meant she wanted a lighter. I said, "I know three words for lighter, and yet you can find one I don't know." So, now I knew four words for lighter, and then another Colombian used yet a 5th word for it later that I didn't know.

It gets really aggravating, especially when they won't slow down or pronounce their words properly. When I'm speaking English to someone struggling to learn, I slow down and enunciate very clearly so they can understand. Colombians will not do that. You ask them to slow down and speak clearly to help you, and they'll say it again just as fast with all the words run together like they have mush in their mouths.

It has everything to do with education. The Colombians mostly don't do other languages and have no concept of what it's like to understand someone when you're learning a new language. Imagine trying to understand someone in English that's very uneducated. Or someone from Detroit or the Caribbean. If they only have three years of school, they're not very articulate. And even when you speak English, it's hard to decipher what crap is spilling out of their mouths. A person learning English is never going to understand them. So it also applies in Spanish. I sometimes ask them to spell whatever word they're using to figure out what they mean, and they can't spell it. They're speaking ghetto Spanish and it's nothing even resembling proper university Spanish that we learn.

So I'm telling you not to get down on yourself. I had two years high school, 2 years in college, and 5 months intense Spanish training by the government. I've been all over Central and South America for 20 years, and I still don't understand what the damn Colombians are saying. Just do the best you can.

If I could offer some advice... The best thing that helps me is putting the situation into context. Sometimes I already know where the conversation is headed and can pick up a few words to understand what they've said, just because it would be a natural thing for them to say on that particular subject. For instance, if you've just asked a guy where the market is, and he points down the street and all you hear "tres", you can assume he means three blocks. Hopefully not three kilometers, but you know what I mean. :) Just go three blocks and then ask another guy. The way they give directions in Colombia, he may point the way you just came from and say it's three blocks the other way. Colombians are a confused bunch.

Find a good Spanish tutor in Colombia. It's one on one for like $5 an hour. And they're very good teachers.

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geoffbob
6/25/2016 19:50 EST

Your sense of fun and use of technology could be of help. I keep Google Translate on my smart phone and even though it's far from perfect, it's a tool that has come in handy many times. Secondly but more importantly is how extroverted you are. I went to Acapulco with a buddy who's Spanish consisted of maybe 200-300 words but because he was so outgoing people loved him. He had an easy time of it. Now my Spanish is good but at the beginning I felt inhibited because I didn't want to make mistakes. THAT was my mistake.

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BrandonBP
6/25/2016 21:37 EST

"Now my Spanish is good but at the beginning I felt inhibited because I didn't want to make mistakes. THAT was my mistake."
=========================

Geoffbob makes a great point. Don't be afraid to use your Spanish. They may laugh if you screw something up, but they're not making fun.

You'll run across Latinos that are somewhat versed in English that are also afraid to use English because they think you might laugh. But you wouldn't make fun because they're trying, right? It's the same in Spanish. So what if you screw up the verb conjugation? If you get close, they'll likely understand what you mean.

I was in Saltillo Mexico when I was in college. I hadn't used Spanish much besides in the classroom, so I was a bit timid to use it on real Spanish speakers. I told a group of Mexican kids I needed to catch the "autobus" and they laughed and laughed and kept repeating "autobus." But it's the right word. They say bus or camioneta, but autobus is fine. They were just kids and thought it was funny that I'd used a word they didn't hear much. But they didn't think I was an idiot or anything. They all followed me around all day and thought I was like Tom Cruise from the USA. :)

Just hang out and talk. You'll get better and you'll have fun.

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Felipe58
6/25/2016 22:21 EST

When I first started learning Spanish 20+ years ago, I used cassettes (showing my age!) CD's and internet, but until I moved to Spain and had to use it day in and day out, I was not much good, I could hold my own but it was frustratingly slow.

I lived permanently in Spain for six years, and by the time I left I could hold a good conversation, I lived amongst the Spanish, so I had no option.

However I then moved to Colombia to be with my now Wife, and immediately I spoke if we were out I received "Qué?" and they would ignore me and talk to my wife, it is totally different here,

I find that Colombians that don't know you, do not have the patience to talk slower, and the meanings of words are different here to Spain, much like English US and British, even now four and a half years later, I find people intolerant of Foreigners when it comes to speaking.

However although my Wife understands English, she doesn't use it, so we speak Spanish permanently, that certainly helps.

As you have been learning for such a short time, do not expect too much, and if you make a Blooper, and I am sure you will, rather than getting frustrated, laugh at yourself, and they will laugh with you, not at you.

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JasonWriter
6/25/2016 23:58 EST

Awesome replies, thanks so much everyone. Great advice. I've been to Colombia twice, and both times my Spanish was very close to non-existent. After that I did Peru, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and in each place my Spanish was inching toward being better. My first real plunge is about to go down.

Yeah, so far, my Colombian Spanish tutor, in practice, has been a girl I met on Latin American Cupid. She's educated, and speaks a decent amount of English, so she's really helping my progress along. But yeah, on the other end of the spectrum, are these Medellin women online who are somewhat ghetto, and who send me the equivalent of "Ay what u fixin to do tonight?" Ghetto-ass speakers are definitely not going to make things easy for me, it's true. One of the weirdest things about Spanish has always been, for me, the grammatical difference in a sentence like this: "Do not touch me."= "No me toques."

"No me you touch." It's getting used to that...that's always been the aspect of Spanish that intimidated the heck out of me, and now I'm trying to go in and get used to it

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Epicatt2
6/26/2016 01:03 EST

Bear with me while I add some comments to Felipe's post about learning spanish.

If you make a blooper, yes laugh at yourself but more importantly, someone will prolly tell you the right word to use and so you will learn the right word and what it means. Plus you'll also learn what the wrong word that you used means, too. You learn two words for the price of one in that exchange!

Spanish was my major in University and I graduated in 1970 with a B.A. in Spanish, Liberal Arts. Unfortunately I never had the luxury after graduating to go to live in a spanish speaking country and spend six months or so immersed in spanish to improve my conversational skills with the language and hopefully to become bilingual or at least closer to being bilingual.

My conversational spanish never really began to improve significantly until I finally retired years later and got my residency in Costa Rica where I would spend six months per year there. Staying in CR as a resident (not a tourist) for an extended time, actually living in the country and interacting with the ticos (costarricans), was what finally helped improve my conversational spanish. Of couse it also helped that I had all along continued to read & write in spanish all those years, 'keeping it up' until I retired. All that time I had continued to learn new vocabulary along the way which, incidentally, I would practice pronouncing out loud 'til I could say any new word perfectly.

We have to realize that the greater majority of us will not be able to learn a second language in only a few short months. And hey, we don't even learn our own native language from birth well enough to be able make complete, simple sentences until we are about three to four years old! And we don't develop really good language skills 'til we're about five or six. So why, unless we happen to be some kind of linguistic 'wunderkind', should we expect to learn a second language, like spanish, in only a few short months?

The way to learn spanish is just to keep at it and practice, practic, practice. Make mistakes and you will learn from them and your spanish will gradually improve over time. Don't worry about not speaking spanish perfectly; strive to be able to communicate reasonably well in spanish.

Let me end this rant of mine here and leave for those who may be interested a link to a useful language study program for beginner to intermediate spanish speakers. It is called "DESTINOS: An Introduction to Spanish" and it is in the form of a spanish telenovela in 54 fifty-minute long episodes. It is actually an interesting story. They used it at my University as supplemental study material. I still use DESTINOS from time to time even nowadays to help 'tune my ear' to spanish if I have been back in the states for an extended period of time for when am getting ready to go back down to CR or Colombia. Doing so serves as a sort of jump-start for my spanish and gets me to speaking it again.

DESTINOS — http:www.learner.org/resources/series75.html

You can watch the episodes free on your computer at the above website.

OK — Hope this helps! (Sorry it grew to be so long.)

Cheers!

Paul M.
==

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cafetero
6/26/2016 08:38 EST

Lots of good suggestions in this thread. I found my best introduction line to be, ¨Mi español es horrible. Va a ayudar a aprender ?¨ Then I giggle, and they giggle in return and very happily dive into helping me with whatever my problem is, whether I need directions, or to buy something, or meet someone, get on the bus, whatever.
I find MOST of the Colombians to be incredibly friendly and helpful after I admit my poor Spanish. Then I ask them if they speak English and usually they giggle again and shake their head and roll their eyes to show me how difficult it is.
I always have to remember the sentences are opposite of English, for example we say white house and they say house white.
And remembering the feminine and masculine, and of course the verb conjugations are all but impossible for the first few years. There are something like 12,000 of them. Just get close to the right one and they will figure it out.
There are of course Colombians who will only talk faster and louder when you don´t understand them the first time. Just politely go on to someone else.
I had one incident where the cab driver could not, or would not, understand me, so I got out of his cab and got in the next one in line and that driver instantly understood me and happily drove me to my destination.
And remember, most of us didn´t learn English in the first few years either, just basic sentences, then we studied in school for 8 years then high school 4 years then on to university or college and still we haven´t learned it all. So, none of this comes easy. It takes years to get good at it.

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Kee
6/26/2016 11:19 EST

There are a lot of different ways to learn Spanish. I learned the grammar from a book, vocabulary from reading novels. But listening comprehension is the most difficult. It really helps to find something enjoyable. Finding music that I liked worked for me.

I will echo what several have said about making mistakes. Once I got over my embarrassment about making mistakes, my Spanish improved tremendously. The overwhelming majority of Spanish speakers are very tolerant of gringos speaking poor Spanish.

There will always be the occasional frustrations, but then again there are English speakers I can't understand.

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novato1953
6/26/2016 12:10 EST

Once you decide you want to learn to swim, sooner or later you got to get wet. Happily, Spanish has a pet aphorism explaining the language acquisition process: "las mejores clases son la calle y la cama".

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BrandonBP
6/26/2016 14:14 EST

Here's an example of frustration at Colombian Spanish.

I asked a girl, "When are we going to the market?"

She said "Ahorita."

So I'm standing by the door waiting, because obviously we're going right now. And she says, "What are you doing?"

And I said, "We're going to the market, and I'm ready."

So she says, "Ahorita."

And I say yeah, let's friggin go!

So she explains that "Ahorita" means "in a while." And I'm like no way, you're not pulling this Colombian crap on me. I've been to 15 latin countries and I know what ahorita is. It means immediately!

So she argues and says no, it means in a while.

So now I'm annoyed and I go look it up on Google to show her. I found a forum post from a Mexican girl that now lives in the US that explained it best. She said she was confused, too, because her Colombian boyfriend would promise to wash the dishes "ahorita" and two hours later, he's still playing X-Box. And she would say, "You said you were going to wash the dishes, what the hell?"

To Colombians, ahorita means "Whenever I feel like it." At least I felt better that the Mexican girl was also confused. :)

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BrandonBP
6/26/2016 14:44 EST

Here are some very common Colombian slangs you'll hear daily.

+Que mas? - What's up?
+Que pena. - What a shame.
+Parcero - good friend (use this one, they like it. It's like using paisano in other countries)
+Guayabo - hangover
+Plata - Money (they say this way more than dinero or moneda, etc)
+Gas! - On of my faves... means "Gross!"
+Que feo! - they don't like something
+Marica - It means the bad version of calling someone gay. You know, the F word. But they also say it to be funny, so don't get mad. They're just teasing you.
+Caspas - literally "dandruff" but means a nere-do-well. Like people in the park waiting to rob you.
+Mamon - a pain in the ass. I say un dolor en el culo and they always think it's funny. But they use mamon.
+Chino - they mean it for a child, but it's confusing because I always think they're talking about a Chinaman
+Mono - a blonde or a white person, actually means "monkey" which is a bit insulting really :/

And the most annoying one you'll get sick of... "A la orden!!" Every time you walk past a shop someone is going to yell this at you. They mean it to be, "May I help you," but it ends up sounding very rude if you don't yet know what it means.

The best one is "Que chimba!" I heard this constantly in Medellin, but not as much anywhere else. It's pretty hilarious, and it's like pulling teeth to get a Paisa to explain it. They'll just giggle and won't tell you. So look it up now, and be sure to use it every other word while in Medellin. :)

There's tons of others, everyone chime in with some Colombianisms.

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Andresen
6/26/2016 17:05 EST

Re: La orden. Yes, I hear it when I enter a shop (like, may I help you?) but I also hear it when I leave (like, it's my job to serve you).

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Andresen
6/26/2016 17:08 EST

Re: ahorita. I've never heard it before but my gf often says ahora. To me, that means now but she uses it like "mas tarde" meaning later. I looked it up and the dictionary says she's right but then how do you know the friggin' difference between NOW and LATER?

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Kee
6/26/2016 17:34 EST

Mamado/a----very tired

Que pereza----usually said when someone tell bad news (my MIL's favorite expression

Patilla-----watermelon

Quiubo----what's going on (Not strictly Colombian but important to know).

Many many others, but I'll have to think about it.

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GringoPaisa
6/26/2016 18:13 EST

Its difficult learning a new language when you didnt learn it when you were young. I use google translate on my phone and Fluencia on my PC for practice. Fluencia is the best bar none that i have tried, including Rosetta stone ect. I learn much more when i am immersed in it while in Colombia.

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JasonWriter
6/26/2016 18:27 EST

Awesome suggestions everyone. I'm now watching the Destinos videos and I just signed up for Fluencia.

Yeah, in talking to Medellin girls online, I've noticed a few of these regional expressions. "Que mas?" confused me when I first came across it. This Colombiana kept sending me "Que mas?" every few days, and for a while I thought "She wants me to elaborate on the previous things I said? Like "what more, what else?"

It took a few "que mas" incidents before I intuited that there was an expression at play, like "What else is up?" or something. But yeah. Thanks for the heads up on the idioms. No amount of online translation or study can explain a local idiom-- you just have to jump in and find out what they mean. If a Spanish speaker came to America and heard someone say "I just killed that test. It was a piece of cake." Lol. What the hell sense does that really make?

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GringoPaisa
6/26/2016 23:47 EST

There is one phrase you should stay away from, i learned the hard way,lol. One of my inlaws ask me to bring an item for her next time i went, it was for a gift. I said No problem. In Colombia, no problem means gratis, as in i just bought it for you free and it wasn't cheap, lol. I dont know how they get that meaning from no problem.

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BrandonBP
6/27/2016 02:20 EST

Words for cigarette lighter:

+Encendedor - what you learned at Ole Miss
+Fuego - Ecuador
+Candela - Colombia
+Briquet - Colombia

And Colombians also use another one for lighter. Anyone know what this was?

And the word for hangover is different in every country. You learn resaca in college, but no one apparently uses it. They understand it, but they're like, "Nobody uses that." In Colombia it's Guayabo; in Ecuador it's Chuchaqui. And no one from Mexico, Chile or Argentina is going to understand what either of those mean.

And speaking of Mexico... if you speak any Mexican slang, do so in Colombia. They'll think it's funny. If you say Que onda way! They look at you confused for a split second and then laugh. They watch Mexican soaps, so they understand the slang a bit. Call them Vato and paisano. They'll like it.

And here's one for talking to girls... A guy told me this in Ecuador before I got to Colombia and it's gold. Tell a girl, "Que pasa, Calabasa?"

It means "What's up, pumpkin?" but it's not as creepy like it would be in English. It's a child's saying like "See you later, Alligator!" They'll think it's cute.

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edl5302
6/27/2016 07:26 EST

Now and later -candy!

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cafetero
6/27/2016 12:54 EST

otro en Mexico es Ándale! significa vamos o come along hurry. My Colombiana laughed at me about this one, too.

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fhammette
6/27/2016 12:56 EST

I agree with everything you said. I too have traveled in SA. Having traveled or lived in every country south of the Rio Grand. But I found some of central america ( Nicaragua) and the andes in Bolivia and Peru most difficult. asking folks here to speak despachio , lentamente, y claramente , sometimes works, but often does not. Lol, also I have not found in Medellin a professor, with training or a degree in teaching for less than $10.00/hour. An interesting program online is " News in Slow Spanish" . good from intermediate Spanish.

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fhammette
6/27/2016 13:07 EST

A blooper? how about this one. Many years ago while i Nicaragua I went to several small shops " pulperias, in Nicaragua" . I kept saying I needed to buy a pene. everyone kept laughing so I gave up. later, my Spanish friend from Barcelona explained. It didn't bother , just gave me a good story to tell

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fhammette
6/27/2016 13:12 EST

concerning my previous post, I was trying to by a comb, but instead of saying peine I was saying pene.

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BrandonBP
6/27/2016 13:35 EST

"I was trying to by a comb, but instead of saying peine I was saying pene."
============================

That's friggin great!

That's the sort of thing that they should be able to sort out in context, but Colombians can't conceptualize anything for some reason. They actually think you were looking for penis at a shop.

I used to work for the government a lifetime ago, and when I was a rookie, I had a coworker from Arkansas named Mikie. We encountered some Mexican guys and were interviewing them, and Mikie kept asking this one Mexican "Cuantos anos tiene?" And Mikie was saying the "Anos" without the tilde over the N.

So, naturally the guy looks confused and says "uno". I was dying, and Mikie was getting really redfaced mad because he thought the guy was effing with him by saying he was 1 year old. I had to pull Mikie away before he slapped the guy right there on the street.

To clarify to those that don't understand Spanish much, "Cuantos anos tiene? with a tilde over the N means "How old are you?" Saying the same thing without the tilde over the N means, "How many anuses do you have?"

:D

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BrandonBP
6/27/2016 13:36 EST

I just saw that you were in Nicaragua with the pene story. But Colombians would do the same. Or Mexicans. Or pretty much whereever in the world you go south of Texas.

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fhammette
6/27/2016 14:07 EST

LOL, also had the años problem. I lived in Brazil for over 2 years, and in Portuguese anos without the tilde = years. So, when I moved to Nicaragua, I was asking cuantos anos tiene for some time. jjj. Now Im in medellin, and doing a bit better after many years studing Spanish. I have always gone out of my way to speak Spanish, and dont care if I get it wrong. I would rather practice and learn than be embarrassed, And most of the folks here appreciate that. Even if they get a few laughs at my expense, its ok.

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fhammette
6/27/2016 14:34 EST

has dado el clavo! I think you have the language culture figured out. Your thoughts are mine exactly.

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Andresen
7/5/2016 21:51 EST

BrandonBP. Re: ahorita. At least you can distinguish that from ahora. My gf uses ahora - which I always thought meant now - to mean later. Then why doesn't she just say "mas tarde"?

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