How To Learn Spanish

Painless Spanish

“No matter if you want to live in Costa Rica or holiday in Buenos Aires, it helps if you can habla español and mix with the locals,” writes Latin America Correspondent Jody Hanson.

“I arrived in Santiago in July 2010 not speaking any Spanish. Nada. Zero. The first couple of months were occupied with my usual relocation challenges of finding an ESL job (that’s how I was making my living at the time) and a place to live. I had neither time nor energy to study Spanish during those demanding days. Except for the occasional new word or phrase that I acquired almost by accident, it was gringa English all the way. It was possible to shop by pointing, and my Chilean friends spoke English.

“Next came the life-changing decision to quit teaching and write full-time. I had no illusions about the first year. I knew it would be demanding, as facing up to challenge requires a reinvention.

“The next six months were filled with 12-hour days of the bread-and-butter realities. I was writing how-to pieces for an Internet site to pay the bills and sending out pitches on the weekends. I could have been living under a rock. My location was irrelevant. Santiago or Sacramento or Saskatoon, it really didn’t matter. Spanish wasn’t put on the back burner; it practically fell off the stove.

“Six months into my apprenticeship year, ‘get a life’ reappeared on the horizon. Floundering in a language is frustrating, and when you don’t see any progress it is disheartening. It was time, finally, to make some effort.

“I got into the habit of listening to Spanish state radio out of Madrid (no commercials). I decided to begin writing in my diary, a nearly three-decade ritual, using an English-Spanish translation program. Slowly, I began to understand what people were saying, sometimes, but I was still frustrated, because I couldn’t respond.

“Then, by chance, an expat mentioned ‘Synergy Spanish.’ Being suitably skeptical about language programs, I was hesitant. Eighteen months of teaching for Berlitz in Casablanca had left me with a distinct distaste for the mind-numbing, banal materials they offer. As for Rosetta Stone, Steve McCarthy of Chile Tours & Transport put it well when he remarked: ‘I spent US$500 and did the first two lessons. Anybody want to buy it cheap?’

“The good thing about Synergy Spanish is that it is cheap–US$67. Plus, you can do four free lessons to decide if you like it before you buy, and, if you change your mind, you can take advantage of the unconditional money-back guarantee.

“After the Synergy Spanish introductory lessons, things suddenly started to make a lot more sense. This program starts with verbs and goes directly to real conversations. As Synergy Spanish’s developer Marcus Santamaria explains, there is no point in learning word clusters such as ‘cat,’ ‘dog,’ ‘horse,’ and ‘cow,’ because what are you going to do with groups of words like that, unless, in this case, for example, you happen to be talking to a veterinarian?

“Synergy Spanish may well be the best US$67 I’ve spent this year. And this is an endorsement coming from a hard-nosed ESL teacher who is very finicky and who isn’t impressed with most language materials most of the time.

“The Spanish words picked up through osmosis in the years leading up to focusing on the course certainly helped, but, after seven Synergy lessons, which is merely scratching the surface, my language skills have improved dramatically. I was taught structure without deadly dull grammar. It proved to be the mortar that was needed to have my Spanish ‘Eureka!’ moment.

“After a month of Synergy Spanish, I can chatter away and make myself understood (although I don’t like to think about what the prattle sounds like to a native speaker on the receiving end).

“Here is my ‘If I Can Do It, Anybody Can’ formula for learning Spanish painlessly:

  • Block out an hour a day to study Spanish, no matter where you are living…
  • Try the free Synergy Spanish lessons ( and then invest in the US$67 program. Sign up for the free tip e-mails and booster lessons…
  • Start keeping a diary in Spanish, with the help of a translation tool ( Write the sentences in English and then read them aloud in Spanish as you write them in your diary. If you are moving overseas, this is also a wonderful way to record the transition and have a record for future reference…
  • Always have a Spanish book or magazine to read. Standing in line at the grocery store or finding an extra five minutes before a meeting are opportunities to sneak in a bit of Spanish…
  • Tell your Spanish-speaking friends to ‘Solo hable conmigo en español’

“Here are some additional helpful sites:

Kathleen Peddicord

French Course Online