If you Want to Learn the Language in the Country Where You Have a Home Exchange

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If you love languages, want to keep your mind active, and would enjoy engaging with the people you will meet in a foreign country, you may want to consider a home exchange for a long enough period of time to allow for language study.

We ourselves decided last year to commit to trying to learn enough Spanish to have a basic conversational ability.  Having already had some experience in learning other languages, we had no illusions about the possibility of developing anything like native fluency. We knew that learning a language even just well enough to develop a basic conversational ability would require hundreds of hours of learning, listening and speaking.

We also knew that if you couldn’t spend the time or don’t enjoy the process  of slowly gaining comprehension, it would simply be an exercise in frustration.

But we did want to develop a conversational ability in Spanish, partly because it has become such an important language in the United States and also to help us keep our minds active.  And being able to do home exchanges for weeks at a time in Spanish-speaking countries would help us achieve our goal.

We started with learning materials we could use at home, including a surprising book, Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish by Margarita Madrigal and Andy Warhol, that was first published in 1951 and reissued in 1989. This is a remarkable book you can easily use as a complete beginner and begin building sentences in Spanish.  We also looked at Spanish language software.  We were scared away by the high price of heavily advertised Rosetta Stone software and instead settled on Visual Link Spanish level 1.  This software has a great approach for teaching how to use a number of common verbs in various constructions to build sentences and comes with exercises and games.  We later responded to an email from Visual Link offering permanent online access to level 2 verbs to continue with additional verbs in all tenses which we also found very useful.  We have noticed recently that Visual Link Spanish is changing the way they offer their materials online to include free lessons with additional costs for supplementary materials.  In order for you to get a quick start in learning Spanish, we can recommend the computer software which you can click here to find at Amazon.com.

We also found a lot of other free materials online to help us learn Spanish.  And there are similar materials for other languages, including English, which you can easily locate with Google searches for “learn language”.

For Spanish, an excellent free resource is Spanishdict.com.  This website offers a complete course consisting of about 60 video lessons.  Each lesson has engaging activities to help you learn the lesson.  The site also offers more than 100 short, easy-to-understand explanations of Spanish grammar topics.  The explanations are paired with 40 practice questions so that you can test your knowledge and ensure you’ve mastered the topic.  Click here to access Spanishdict.com.

If we could just motivate ourselves to spend all the hours at our computer or tablet required to go through this material perhaps this website alone would be enough, but we find that we need a variety of materials and experiences to help keep us motivated.

Fortunately there is an abundance of free material available to help with that.  We found, for example, a very entertaining video instructional series called Destinos,  an introduction to Spanish provided by the Annenberg Foundation, which offers 52 half-hour video programs.  In Destinos you travel the world with lawyer Raquel Rodriquez as she solves a mystery for a dying man.  The series is designed to enable you to understand what is going on and build your knowledge of Spanish in an engaging way.  Click here to access the original Destinos videos.

Later we discovered that a follow-on series with 15 additional videos was also produced by the Annenberg Foundation.   This series retells the original story intertwined with a follow-on story.  Click here to access the Nuevos Destinos videos.

One of the problems you may run into into with your independent language study is lack of motivation.  You may find yourself with more good intentions than dedication and begin to miss a day here, a day there, and suddenly realize that you haven’t looked at any of the materials you already have available for two weeks.

One of the things we did to maintain our motivation was to enroll in a local weekly class.  We were then motivated to do the homework and additional work so that when we went back to class we might be at least just a little better than we were the week before.  That works, if your schedule and budget allow it.

Another intriguing resource we found is mylanguageexchange.com.  This website offers both a free and a paid, but lowcost, membership, and has over one million members.  Each member lists his or her native language and the languages they want to learn.  What you can do, before and after you join,  is search for language partners with whom you and your partner exchange lessons.  There is advice and materials on how to do the exchange lessons. Click here to access mylanguageexchange.com.

In addition to all the free resources, we found several things that we thought were worth their cost.  One is a web site called newsinslowspanish.com.  This site provides 4 news stories each week on current news events in slow, spoken Spanish.  You can read the text on the screen, which has difficult phrases underlined in red so that you can read the translation by mousing over this text as you listen to the story.  There is engaging commentary on the story following each news story.

You can print the text or use it on a tablet and download the audio files to listen to on an mp3 player.  We like to do that at the gym.  The site also offers grammar lessons but we only subscribe to the news since we have plenty of grammar materials on hand.  With your subscription to the news stories, you also have access to previous news stories so there is plenty of slow, spoken Spanish with text to read and listen to.  Click here to access newsinslowspanish.com.

Another paid site we subscribed to and like is Yabla.  Yabla offers subscriptions to videos in various languages.  You can choose from hundreds of videos by a wide variety of speakers and singers at various levels of difficulty.  Each video has the text and translation available and you can look up individual works in the text by simply clicking on it.  You can also play the video at normal or slow speed.  Click here to access yabla.com.

Finally it is helpful and enjoyable to see movies in your target language and, most of all, engage in conversations with native speakers when you can.  The conversation can be simple, even rudimentary, and it’s perfectly ok to make mistakes.  That’s how you learn a language!