Thursday, July 8, 2010

Being Self-Taught in Spanish

Had I known that being self-taught in Spanish would be such a long, arduous task, I doubt if I would have continued to learn on my own and set unrealistic goals.

I was hired at my current place of employment because of my ability to speak Spanish. Hardly a day goes by when I'm not greeting, conversing or counseling a Spanish-speaking client. Unlike your average bilingual professional, I'm not a native speaker, nor did I take years of classes at a university. I am self-taught, primarily out of a book entitled Practical Spanish Grammar by Marcial Prado (a self-teaching guide).

Even to this day, it is evident that the more Spanish I learn, the more Spanish I realize I “don't” know.

Had I known that being self-taught in Spanish would be such a long, arduous task, I doubt if I would have continued to learn on my own and set unrealistic goals. I was advised on more than one occasion to take classes, but I didn't have the time. I really thought that I could be fluent within my first year of self-learning (LOL). As time passed, even to this day, it is evident that the more Spanish I learn, the more Spanish I realize I “don't” know. However, it is now too late to stop, considering the progress that I've made so far.


Alberto, my private guide in Chincha Alta, Perú, accompanied me (three hours daily) about town as we conversed in Spanish.

In fact, I'm still learning the language and am still taking every opportunity to become more fluent through more self-study and travel to Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, Perú, and Ecuador. It was in Cuba and Perú where I took formal two-week crash courses to improve my Spanish while on vacation. In the Fall of 2010, I will include Chile and Colombia in my itinerary.

It was in the beautiful Miraflores section of Lima, Perú where I earned an advanced Spanish certificate at a Spanish-immersion school.

I was awarded an Advance Spanish Certificate
from El Sol-Escuela de Español, Lima, Perú

In addition, I practiced my Spanish by reading newspapers and storybooks, and by striking conversations randomly with those whom I perceived to be Spanish only. I created flash cards to memorize items from an English/Spanish phrasebook while waiting on line, waiting for a bus, or any situation where I might be bored. A fun way in which I practice my Spanish is by watching Spanish movies with English subtitles, and sometimes, English movies with Spanish subtitles. I even have a Spanish Facebook account, in addition to my English account, for making friends in Latin American countries and to develop contacts for my upcoming trips.

I spent my summer vacation taking an intensive Spanish course
at the University of Havana in Cuba

Sometimes, my Spanish really surprises me. There are times when my words flow like a native speaker, such as the time I was stopped by the Peruvian National Police for traveling-while-black, and there are times when I struggle to come up with words to express myself, such as conversing with a native Spanish-speaker who is fluent in English (bilinguals make me nervous). When I'm in a Spanish-speaking country where hardly anyone speaks English, my level of fluency rises by default. When I'm home in the USA where I'm speaking mostly English, my level of Spanish fluency takes a dive.


  1. I think it is amazing that you taught yourself how to speak Spanish. I have been taking Spanish for as long as I can remember and I still am not fluent because I did not have anyone to converse with. But I am definitely going to take your suggestions and try to teach myself Spanish and definitely go to a Spanish speaking country so I can immerse myself in the language and culture. Thank you for that!

  2. There aren't Spanish-speaking immigrants in your town that you could make friends with?

  3. Not many in my area. I lived with a woman from the Dominican Republic, but she graduated from my school :( We didn't speak much in Spanish because we were always busy but even when we did hang out, I just forgot.

  4. I've been teaching myself Spanish as well. And, guess what?! I have the same book! I've been using a combination of the book, my Ipod and online resources to teach myself. I do plan, however, plan to finally take a class by doing a Spanish immersion course in Costa Rica for a month or two this winter.

    What's missing for me is the speaking of Spanish on a regular basis. I need to make some Spanish speaking friends! I'm sure that would help.

    I always love your posts, Bill. Keep them coming! :-)

  5. Njemile, thank you :-) When do you plan on going to Costa Rica. I hope you get to check out Limón on the East Coast. That's where most of the black folks are.

  6. I'm planning to go sometime this winter. The actual dates are not set in stone yet. I do hear that there are folk who look like me on the Carribean coast of Costa Rica. I plan to wander that way while I'm there.

  7. HI there,
    Interesting blog. I am also self-teaching at the moment, although I did an intensive course this week and got great practice as well as feedback on areas I need to work on.
    I am planning to do immersion courses in Spain as well as Latin America.


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