Last Tuesday I was talking with my bilingual Panamanian neighbor, trying to get tips for learning Spanish faster.

“No tengo paciencia! Quiero hablar Espanol ahora!” I said. (I don’t have patience. I want to speak Spanish now.)

Grrr. The most frustrating thing is that I WANT TO COMMUNICATE. Communicating is one of my favorite things. (I’m a girl, so yeah….:)

My Spanish level

I originally wanted to be conversationally fluent in 3 months. I’ve been in Panama, semi-immersed in the culture, for 2 1/2. Thankfully, I can speak decently. I can take a taxi. I can order food. I can ask for help, introduce myself, discuss living here, and convey basic information. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m fluent. But I’m a lot closer than I was 2 months ago.

I’m still floundering with the past tense and future tenses. Basically, I can say the infinitive (the “to ____”) form of lots of words. For example, I can say, “to speak” but to say “I spoke” is more difficult. Spanish is notorious for its conjugation.

I discuss language learning with a lot of Panamanians. This is usually what I say: “Creo que conjucion en Espanol es muy deficil, pero no es deficil in Ingles. Pero, pronunciacion en Ingles es muy deficil.” (I think that conjugation in Spanish is very difficult, but is not difficult in English. But, pronunciation in English is very difficult.)

My current resources

I have not taken any actual classes in Panama. There are lots available but I don’t like spending money unless absolutely necessary. (I’m too cheap:)

  1. Every day I watch a free video from the YouTube channel Spanish with Paul.
  2. I also mix up my practice with a few videos from Why Not Spanish, also on YouTube.
  3. I downloaded the app News in Slow Spanish Latino. There is a free and a paid version. Every morning before breakfast, I listen to some of that. Mostly it goes over my head, but I’m not giving up.
  4. The last method is putting into practice everything I’m learning. I talk with people in town, my neighbors, everyone I can.

I’ve Done This Right

  1. Tried very hard. I’ve put in the effort. One of my new Panamanian friends told me that I speak great Spanish considering how long I’ve been here. She said my Spanish is better than some people who have been here three years. (Not sure I believe it, but the encouragement meant so much and gave me tons of motivation.)
  2. Incorporated Spanish into my life. I don’t believe in “studying Spanish.” I think you need to be immersed in Spanish – it should become your life. My text messages are in Spanish, my music is Spanish, I read books in Spanish, my family speaks Spanish with me…etc. It’s immersion.
  3. Pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert and glad of it. I adore people, but sometimes I think to myself, I think I’ll just stay home today. Too much work to go see people. But since arriving in Panama, I haven’t let myself hide in my room. It hurts a lot sometimes, but when I have a free chance, I find a Panamanian to talk to. It’s awkward, I make stupid mistakes (like mixing up feminine and masculine forms of words, ALL the TIME), I feel like a kindergartner, and it’s just difficult. It’s also tremendously rewarding, Panamanians appreciate my effort, and we laugh sometimes.

My biggest mistakes

I believe I would be almost fluent by now if I’d done two things differently.

  1. I wish I’d arranged, from day one, to meet with a Panamanian every day and just speak Spanish. Solomente Espanol, por una hora.

I’m on the hunt for someone to speak Spanish with on a regular basis….it’s a difficult because everyone wants to practice English. (That’s hilarious fun, btw. I love hearing non-native speakers speak English. English pronunciation is so tricky. One lady pronounced “plumber” with a hard B and I almost lost it.)

So yes, for attaining fluency, there’s nothing like every day practice and ZERO English.

(So if you’re trying to learn a language, give that a shot. Try iTalki or some other language tutoring website.)

  2. Stopped hanging around English speakers

A lot of my friends here in Panama are gringos! I have Panamanian friends too, but mostly they’re bilingual! So when we are together, they start speaking English. It’s almost like I have to cut off all contact with my family and gringo friends or else we’ll all speak English and never learn Spanish.

I Have an Idea

I’m a visual learner. Many times, a Panamanian will speak to me and I will hear the word, but not remember it. I have to see a word to remember¬†it. (Si quiero recordar una palabra, necesito verlo.)

So my idea is this: I’m going to go to the dollar store and buy a notebook. Every time I hear a word, I’ll ask the person to write it down for me. (Learning another language is all about discovering how your brain functions and remembers things best.)

More later….

It’s nightfall….I’m exhausted…..I’m going to bed. So, as I end all my emails to friends….More later, amigos!

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