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10 Top Tips for Learning Spanish in Argentina

You’ve booked your great Spanish courses at Expanish in Buenos Aires, done all your pre-trip planning, bragged to all your friends how much good steak and wine you’ll be having, gotten over your jet lag, and now reality has set in: you’re in Buenos Aires. You suddenly realize that everyone’s talking around you, and it’s not as slow and clear as the Spanish you learned by that non-native-speaking teacher you had for 2 years in high school. So what is an overwhelmed extranjero to do to go from Super Gringo to Full on Porteño??

(*Cue cliché Superhero music*)

Here are some 10 sure fire tips that will help get you going from “¿Cómo…?” to “Calláte la boca boludo, que no te banco más!”

# 1 Speak as much Spanish as possible

This seems like a no-brainer, but let me tell you, before I went abroad, I wrongly thought that through the pure divine power of osmosis, I would instantly become fluent in Spanish. Thus, it came as a complete shocker when I had to (*gasp*) put in some effort to get in that castellano practice. So, take advantage of all the porteño speakers in the city! Talk to that guy at the kiosk where you go to engage in your daily gluttonfest of alfajores. If you’re in a taxi, strike up a conversation with the taxista. Etc. Not only will you be able to practice those seemingly difficult concepts you learned in your Spanish class (subjunctive who?), you’ll also get to learn more about Argentine culture, such as why every single task in Buenos Aires seems to involve a line of some sort (to be honest, I still haven’t worked this one out myself), why Messi’s nickname is la pulga, and why Branca is supreme king when it comes to Fernet.

#2 Discover Cuevana

I am so obsessed with Cuevana, I am considering starting a narcissistic self-promotional campaign to get me to be their yanqui spokesperson. What is Cuevana, you ask? It’s HULU’s long lost twin, brother, but the one that got all the good genes in the family. You can stream (almost) all of your favorite TV shows, plus you have access to a wide array of movie selections that gives Netflix Instant View a few nervous heart palpitations to beat.  However, the best thing about Cuevana is that the majority of programs come with subtitle options. So, if you are watching a show in English, you can also enjoy it with Spanish subtitles, and vice versa. (Note: Spanish subtitles are mainly in Spain Spanish, so keep in mind that some words or phrases may have different translations or connotations here in Argentina. Ahem “coger” cough cough). Anyway, besides Cuevana’s subtitle glory, it also contains many well-known Argentine movies to help you get more acostumbrado to the porteño accent, such as Kamchatka, El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Nueve Reinas, and much more. Successful lazy Sundays AND a little Spanish practice? Now that’s what I call killing two birds with one stone.

#3: Listen to Spanish music

When I was in high school, one of the most difficult sounds in Spanish for me was the “rr” sound, and I literally practiced every day to get that sound down pat (see above: nerd). One of the things that really helped me with the “rr” sound, as well as pronunciation in general, was listening to Spanish pop music on the radio. Luis Fonsi, Reik, Julieta Venegas, you name it: I was putting those jams on blast in Suburbantopia, California (to the horror of my sister, and fellow carpoolmate). Besides TV shows and movies, music is a great complement to honing in on your listening skills, which will not only help you better understand the language, but will also help fastrack you to sounding like a real nativo.

#4: Learn Vos

What is vos?? While it sounds like a pretentious hipstar bar in New York City, it’s actually a conjugation form in castellano rioplatense, or the Spanish spoken in the Rio de la Plata region. The vos, or voseo, replaces the standard form, and has a slightly different verb conjugation in the present tense imperative, as well as in commands. To use vos, it’s easy: take off the “r” of the infinitive, put an accent over the last vowel, and add an “s.” For example, instead of saying “Tu hablas,” you would say “Vos hablás.” Instead of “Tu comes,”  it would be “Vos comés.” Etc. I have to admit, in the beginning, me and the vos didn’t exactly get along. Now I am absolutely obsessed with the vos, and can’t imagine ever going back to that standard and oh-so-boring tú form. With a little practice, you will be able to pick it up and porteño-ize yourself in no time as well!

#5: Make Argentine Friends

When you’re in another country, surrounded by a completely different culture, it’s easy to stay within your safety zone and only make friends with people that speak your native language. While I actually think it’s healthy to have other foreigner friends within your social network, it’s also really important to get to know the locals. Taking yourself outside of your comfort zone will allow you to more fully immerse yourself, which in turn gives you a great opportunity to learn about Argentine culture. Furthermore, having Argentine friends gives you unlimited access to practice your Spanish, which allows you to more effectively apply what you’ve learned in your Spanish classes.

#6: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

If someone uses a word you’ve never heard of before, ask. If you’re following a conversation that is so lightning quick and confusing that you think you’ve just had a brain aneurism, ask. If you are trying to say a phrase that you realize you don’t know how to translate into Spanish, ask. Have I pounded it into your head enough that you need to ask? Your Spanish-speaking friends are your best teachers (besides the Expanish Spanish School professors, of course!), so take advantage of it. The same advice goes when you’re learning the lunfardo, or the local slang. Porteño Spanish has so much slang that at times it can be overwhelming, but with a little help and explanation from your friends, you’ll be speaking like a porteño al toque.

#7: Pursue Your Hobbies…In Spanish!

Do you like to cook? Take a cooking class in Spanish! Do you like to paint? Take a painting class in Spanish! Do you like to…ok, I’ll stop my endless rhetorical questions for the sake of your personal sanity, but you get the picture. Pursuing a hobby in Spanish is incredibly useful because it will allow you to learn and expand your vocabulary according to what’s relevant for you in your life. For me, it was soccer. Through playing soccer here, not only have I been able to contribute in showing silly Argentine men that girls actually know how to play (that’s another story for another day), I can also proudly say I know the important soccer terms in Spanish, such as: atrás (pass back), a linea (down the line), cuidado/te comen (man on), te apoyo/estoy abierto (here/I’m open), and of course, my favorite, golazo (an AMAZING goal). Note to all our Spanish students, Expanish Spanish School offers a range of great ‘immersion activities’ to help you learn Spanish whilst doing the things you love.
#8: Read the Newspaper

What did Cristina say once about the effects of eating pork?? What protest just happened in Plaza de Congreso two days ago? And what is going on with the cyclovías (bike lanes) in the city? You can find out the answers to all of these questions and more if you pick up a newspaper! Not only will you get to sneak in a little reading practice on the way to your Spanish classes, you will also have a better knowledge about the city and country that you’re living in. Before you know it, you’ll be able to debate the upcoming 2011 national elections like butter! Try La Nacion or Clarin

#9: Check Your Ego at the Door

This is one of the most important tips that you can learn while you’re here. When learning a new language, remember that it’s ok to make a few mistakes. I can’t even begin to tell you how many embarrassing moments or slight cultural mishaps that I’ve had along the way (for a re-hashing of these stories, feel free to come and talk to me on the 1st floor of the Expanish building). If this happens to you, try not to take yourself too seriously and cut yourself some slack, as it will probably make for a fantastic abroad story later on. And if you make some grammatical mistakes, don’t fret, people truly are grateful that you’re putting in the effort to learn their language. It’s easier said than done, but put yourself out there and be fearless, and you will rapidly improve your Spanish language skills.

#10: Have Fun!

As one fellow language nerd to another: learning Spanish is fun (right?), So take a step back, relax, and enjoy the ride! Once you take a breather and start to enjoy the language and your surroundings, everything else will fall into place.

So those are some of tips for speaking like a true porteño. For now, don’t forget to smile and be friendly when asking, ¿Cómo?  :).

p.s. It goes without saying that step number 1a (if you haven’t already) to speaking good Spanish is to book into the best Spanish school in Buenos Aires… Expanish of course!

Jenn