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.
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.”
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 (www.vamospanish.com). For those looking for more intense courses, Academia Buenos Aires in San Telmo (www.academiabuenosaires.com) and Expanish in Centro (www.expanish.com) 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 (www.giselagiunti.com) 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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