An American Girl in Buenos Aires Learns to Speak Spanish

Jaime photo

h3. ¿Hablás español?

Upon arriving in Argentina, I relied on flashing a coy smile while I stumbled through recalling the Spanish I had learned almost two decades before. When that did not work, which was often, I then resorted to hand signals and miming.

h3. Castellano

The Argentines speak a dialect of Spanish often referred to as “Castellano.” “Castellano” and “español” essentially mean the same thing: Spanish. If someone asks you “¿Hablás castellano?” they just want to know if you speak Spanish. The history of the castellano or castilian language and culture is rather interesting, but without going into a history lesson its just important to know that Argentina’s way of speaking Spanish is a bit unique; mainly derived from their Italian roots. It is for this reason that when saying goodbye in Argentina people say “chau” instead of the more traditional Spanish “adios.”

Jaime photo

Part of the draw for foreigners to visit here is the hundreds of language schools throughout Argentina and particularly Buenos Aires. Every month groups of students of all ages come here to study Spanish. From business professionals seeking out quick immersion courses, to college students coming for semester study abroad programs, and then of course the many others just like me who simply moved here to experience a new culture.

h3. Language Schools

Language schools in Buenos Aires are plentiful. Schools offer a variety of programs to tailor the student’s weekly schedule and budget. If you have ever studied Spanish before, I’m sure you remember how you felt when you first tried to master all of the verb conjunctions…ugh, it’s exhausting just thinking about it! To make matters worse, every different Latin-speaking country has a slightly different way of speaking. If you studied basically anywhere outside of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, you learned the more widely spoken Spanish dialect. However, if you want to be understood in Argentina you’ll need to change the “ll” and “y” articulations from the more commonly used “ee” pronunciations to more of a “sha” or “ja” sound. Also unique to Argentina is the use of the informal pronoun “vos”, which replaces “tú.” Don’t worry though, Argentines will understand you in the “”tú” form; just know that if you ask someone, “¿cómo estás?” and they answer “¿bien y vos?”, they just mean “you!”

Currently I am taking a bi-weekly “Expat” course that is tailored for the working professional at Vamos Spanish Academy in Palermo ( For those looking for more intense courses, Academia Buenos Aires in San Telmo ( and Expanish in Centro ( offer great classes to fit your intensity level Monday-Friday. If you’re just passing through Buenos Aires, Vamos Spanish Academy also offers a 3 hour fun “Crash Course” that will give you the basic tools to get around and help with local pronunciations and common phrases.

h3. Spanish Tutors

If you prefer a more private approach to learning or just want to supplement your Spanish classes, there are plenty of tutors in town. Admittedly, if there were not so many Argentines who spoke English here I probably would not survive. Thankfully many of them are available to tutor the abundance of foreigners! My tutor targeted my everyday needs, helped me on basic conjunctions and most importantly helped with my questionable pronunciations! Most tutors range in price from $35-65AR/hour. Gisela Giunti is a fantastic tutor who creates a targeted yet more personalized approach for each student ( and also offers group classes. It might take a few lessons with different tutors before finding someone perfect for you, but once you do, he or she usually becomes not only your guide to the language, but also to the city! Tutors often will give many suggestions of local hot spots and cultural events that are not found most guide books.

h3. Practice Makes Perfect

When I first started studying Spanish again, I found it extremely beneficial to just study the basics…and by basics I mean even the alphabet! It’s natural to want to pronounce words using the English alphabet and with some letters that is okay, but many letters in the Spanish alphabet are quite different, drastically altering the way the word is pronounced. When someone asks how to spell my name I still initially reply beginning with an English “J” instead of a Spanish “hota” sound. I also have to consciously remember that “G” makes a “he” sound when before an “I” and “e” — and the list goes on…

While challenging at this stage in my life, its amazing how much progress I make by just studying. Yes, the elementary concept of “practice makes perfect” undoubtedly applies. I recently returned to Buenos Aires after a 4 week visit to the States, and when I returned I felt almost like I did when I first arrived. I had to quickly alter my mindset and brush up on the basics. So as my Spanish teacher would say, “for your best results my advice is to be speaking, listening and reading Spanish everyday.”

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Jaime Jensen
Jaime moved to Argentina in 2010 and is currently enjoying living and working in the heart of the cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires. After over 12 years in the San Francisco real estate market, she desired a change. Craving a shift in professional focus Jaime decided it was time to make a move, learn a new language and offer her years of real estate expertise to the local sometimes ambiguous local Buenos Aires market. Jaime is now working with traveling foreigners, expatriates and locals alike in finding the perfect Buenos Aires residence, as well as writing about her life and experiences in Argentina from an expatriate's point of view.

10 responses to “An American Girl in Buenos Aires Learns to Speak Spanish

  1. Story's Mom says:

    What an informative piece on language schools in Argentina. Glad your castellano is coming along!

  2. Jaclyn says:

    Hi Jamie,
    Argentina sounds (and looks) amazing.

    I'd love you to become a member of, a new community for women travelers to get real travel information geared specifically to women.

    It would be great if you could post about your travels to Argentine, providing anecdotes and photos from your time abroad. You might also want to provide tips for women travelers who also want to get out there.

    I look forward to hearing more about your experiences abroad!

    Hope to hear from you soon,

    [email protected]

  3. anotherusernameis says:

    I had a very nasty experience with expanish . The sales rep, Michelle, was a pretty 'full-on' sales type of operator. She was very keen to sell me on the full eight week deal and advised that a one week introduction was a waste of time. Trusting her advice, I booked for two weeks with a view to see how things proceeded. She also said I should start immediatly because a weekly class had just started. After a hurried sign off of the form (small print in Spanish) and payement in USD only I was seated into a class that was already half way through. The lecturer spoke, only in Spanish and adhoc sign language. I seriously had no idea what she was saying. The other students were also pulling WTF type faces at each other.

    I apologized to the lecturer and explained that I was having difficulty catching up with the lesson. She snapped at me and said that I would just have to take a another lesson another time. I was angered and embarrassed to say the least. I then informed the administrators that I would prefer to cancel my lessons because I was so humiliated by the treatment and needed to start from scratch. They also informed me that some lecturers do speak english and some don't.

    I offered to pay a $50 USD penalty for the hour that I was there. The sales ladiy's response was aggressive and sharp.She promptly informed that that they do not give refunds. She informed me that when I signed the personal information form, (that's what it was titled), I had also signed and agreed to their terms and conditions which are posted on their web site. The only option given to me was that I could do some private lessons for equal value or simply lose my $300 US. In other words, too bad, we have your money and there's nothing you can do about it.

    After a very heated argument they finally agreed to refund half my money. The hostel that I am staying since told me that Expanish has a reputation of high pressure sales and that they would have advised mt to use a different company.

    I went in there trusting good reports from forums and ended up letting my guard down when it came to making an assessment. They even had a Lonely Planet logo in their brochure and guess what? When I got back to my dorm, I checked the Lonely Planet guide and Expanish isn't even listed.

    Based on this incident, my advice is to tread very carefully when dealing with the sales representative at Expanish or any english teaching business in BA. Do not let them pressure you into a rushed decision or book more lessons than you originally wanted in the first place. Make sure that they give you a print-out of the terms and conditions (in English). Be sure to make sure that the lecturer assigned to your class actually speaks English rather than pigeon English and sign language – perhaps ask to met the lecturer.

    Remember that the English lesson market is very competitive Buenos Aires.

    Hope this advice proves useful in some way.

  4. Good to know! I have a couple friends who took long courses at Expanish and recommended it…obviously they thankfully (for their sake) did not have a similar experience. It is always unfortunate to hear of shady situations such as yours here in Argentina. This is why our blogs and forums are so important. Thank you for letting us know.
    If you are still in need of courses I highly recommend Vamos Spanish Academy. There are many expats who work there and the Argentine owners are lovely! Tell them I sent you and they will even offer a 10% discount. 🙂

  5. Good to know! I have a couple friends who took long courses at Expanish and recommended it…obviously they thankfully (for their sake) did not have a similar experience. It is always unfortunate to hear of shady situations such as yours here in Argentina. This is why our blogs and forums are so important. Thank you for letting us know.
    If you are still in need of courses I highly recommend Vamos Spanish Academy. There are many expats who work there and the Argentine owners are lovely! Tell them I sent you and they will even offer a 10% discount. 🙂

  6. Expanish says:

    In response to 'AnotherUserName' we are extremly sorry you appear to have had such a bad experience at Expanish.
    Our staff and owners continuously strive to make Expanish one of the best Spanish school in Buenos Aires through a combination of great teachers, great school facililites and very importantly, excellent customer service, which in our opinion certainly doesn't come in the form of 'hard selling'. In fact, our admissions team are trained to be as open as possible, providing potential students with all the info they need to make an informed choice before booking.

    As we mentioned in our other replies to your identical message board posts (see below) about our school, we have a very stringent complaint control and provide students with a questionaire at the beginning of their course (to flag up any issues early) and at the end of each person's course, to ensure that complaints or issues are dealt with as soon as possible. Although, there are undoubtedly issues and problems that arise with students from time to time, our questionaires show that 95% of oour students would recommend us to their friends. A statistic we are very proud of.

    Once again, i can't stress enough how sorry we are that you appear to have had such a negative experience that you have had to post it on many different boards, and i would urge you to contact us directly on [email protected] so we resolve the issue and make amends.


  7. I'm a brazilian guy, studied in Expanish in november/2011 and I had an amazing experience. The staff was very nice with me and I met nice people from Switzeland and EUA! I went to stay 2 weeks, but stayed there for two moths!

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  9. topodin says:

    This is the perfect website for everyone who wishes to understand this topic.
    You know a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a new spin on a topic which has been discussed for years.

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  10. Gonzalo says:

    You skipped one of the most popular and prestigious language schools in Buenos Aires: CUI (Centro Universitario de Idiomas), affiliated with the University of Buenos Aires. Every year hundreds of international students take Spanish courses there with great results

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