by Debra Fuccio
Hablas castellano? Yeah, me either. Or I should really say “un poco” now. For the past three months in Buenos Aires I have been experimenting with different ways to learn Spanish. I must admit right away that I am NOT one of those linguistically talented people. In high school, at University and later while traveling in various locations around the world I have tried and tried again to learn languages such as German (I liked the sound of it in my teens), Spanish (fulfilling my Uni language requirement, and I thought it would be useful living in California), Italian (my genetic heritage, so I thought it might be easier to learn. HA!) and Mandarin Chinese (while working in Taiwan about a year ago).
I must also admit that no where else have I been as intrigued, drawn in, and downright entranced by a language as with Castellano. It simply has a mesmerizing affect on me. I can’t explain it, but I am delighted that for once the frustration of trying to learn a new tongue is not stopping me. There are far more moments here that I am willing to sound like a monosyllabic two year old than anywhere, at any other time in my life.
Once I decided to at least TRY and learn Castellano, I researched many options. I am here living on a meager savings account and have a newfound repulsion for working. This meant that if I was to add studying Spanish to the already full plate of writing a book, doing volunteer work, and doing research on another book about this culture, I was going to have to do it cheaply!
Thus when I heard that the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) has semester long classes for about $200 US (570 pesos) I thought “excellente”! But I was one month away from the next session. Onto plan B. I started to search for both private/intensive language schools and private tutors. I watched a few classes at some private schools around the city and met with a few private tutors. The combination of cost and length of instruction were ultimately the final deciding factors. I found an intensive class in the Congresso neighborhood, at the Ibero Language School, that I liked. And to be fair, they were the cheapest, $120 US per week for 20 hours of class versus the more common $200 US per week for the same amount of time in class. I decided to take one week of class to get some of the vocabulary and accent down and self study until UBA started. BUT, my teacher was so wonderful (Thanks Paula!) and there were only two of us as students in the class, including myself. By the end of the first week I felt so much better about my Spanish, I signed up for a 2nd week with no hesitation!
The second week went just as well if not better, but then the reality of my budget came into play and I was free of classes during a long 10 day gap before my UBA classes started. This is when I played with alternative ways to learn Spanish. There are people who can just sit down in a café and start chatting with someone and learn a language, I am not that person. So I knew right off that I would need a situation more intentional and personal. This is when I posted a few ads for language exchanges. I posted a few ads in my neighborhood on physical billboards. Then I was also referred to a local student travel website, Asatej, where they have an “Intercambio” bulletin board. Immediately the emails came rolling in. It hasn’t been easy with scheduling, personality differences, geographic variances, and weeding out the occasional man using this method as a dating tool, but I have two semi-consistent language exchange partners and hope to add one more soon.
“But what about UBA?” you ask. I have to admit that after the energy of my Ibero teacher and the personalness of being in such a small class, UBA was a shock. We had about 12 people in our class and the physical environment was not ideal, to say the least. UBA’s language school is located on 25 de Mayo, 2 blocks from Plaza de Mayo, which is the center of MANY protests. And most of them come from the plaza down this street. During class, no matter which classroom we are in, it is impossible to ignore the chanting from such protests. I do not exaggerate when I state that these happen often. Last week during one such moment, our teacher gave up on us trying to out scream the protest and gave us a written assignment to work on until the noise had ceased. This took about 10 minutes.
Switching rooms and switching teachers is also a bit odd. We only have class 4 days a week, from 4-6 at night. Yet the classes are split up between one teacher who is there 3 of these days, and one teacher who is there one day. Confused yet? I almost am, and I have been doing this for weeks. There are moments when things like this come up and I just laugh. This is WHY I am studying here, to get the Buenos Aires experience. But then there are moments when I wonder how anyone concentrates at all in this atmosphere. All in all, considering the price and the quality of the class I have to say that it is still the best buy in town for learning Castellano.
I have toyed with other ways of learning Spanish on top of intensive or semester language classes and language exchanges. Some ideas are:
• reading the local newspaper with dictionary in hand
• trying to figure out Castellano song lyrics
• acquiring a local boyfriend who doesn’t speak any English (although I would never date anyone just for this reason alone!)
• switching my housing situation to a home stay with a non-English speaking family.
But for now, I am headed back to San Francisco for a few weeks to contemplate my time here and form a plan of attach for my return.
Ways to learn Spanish in Buenos Aires; A Summary
1. Intensive language schools;
Ibero, $120 US per week for 20 hours of classes
2. UBA, Laboratorio de Idiomas - Facultad de Filosofía y Letras - UBA
$570 pesos for an 8 week, 8 hour a week class
3. Private tutors; $20-30 pesos per hour, some teachers give discounts for large time blocks per week. Can be found in the Buenos Aires Herald, on physical bulletin boards all over the city, referrals from other foreigners, or from these expat websites
4. Chatting with local friends (free!)
5. Language Exchanges
Asatej (http://www.asatej.net/foros.php?region=Intercambio) or physical bulletin boards in grocery stores, other shops
6. Local girlfriend/boyfriend
7. Live with a local family where Spanish is the only language spoken in the home
8. Reading a local newspaper with dictionary
9. Listening to Castellano/Spanish music and figuring out the lyrics
10. Paying way too close attention to movies and/or TV show subtitles and taking notes on important phrases. Note: a lot of the subtitles here are translated into Peninsula Spanish, so double check with a local before putting these new phrases into use.