I arrived into Quito, the capital of Ecuador, last week. It's a special place for me as it's where I first set foot in Latin America back in 2006. The Hispanic culture and language have now been a passion of mine for over half of my life and I continue to love it.
Between living in Spain, travelling in Latin America and years of reading and listening, noting down new words in my libreta, learning Castellano (Spanish) has been the most exciting, rewarding and proud achievement I have to-date.
It's all because of the people - Spanish and Latin Americans are famous worldwide for their awesomeness, for good reason - extremely welcoming, with an unbeatable rhythm and positivity.
I would encourage anyone who is tempted to learn Spanish, to JUMP ON IT. RIGHT NOW. HERE'S HOW.
My 5 tips to start learning Spanish this week:
1. GO TO A BOOK STORE:
You can kickstart yourself by self-teaching. Go to a big book store with a language section tomorrow. Flick through their Spanish textbooks and buy one that suits your learning style, making sure it has an MP3 download and exercises to go with it.
Dedicate your Saturdays to Spanish.
2. HOMESTAY LANGUAGE COURSE:
Once you have taught yourself the basics, organise a trip to Spain/ your nearest Spanish speaking country to do a homestay language course there for a week. It's affordable and so much more effective than paying for lessons at home. As you have learnt the fundamentals through your text book, you'll be able to make the most of the lessons, and ideally not be in the ultimate beginners class so you can expedite your learning.
I did a good 1 week course in Valencia with International House, staying with a lady the school linked me up with.
Immersion is key. Don't hang out with English speaking people when you're there. Be strict and try every conversation in Spanish.
3. BE BRAVE:
Don't stress over making mistakes - they'll be harmless and provide fun for whoever you're talking with! Use every chance to listen and speak Spanish.
On the tube, at the office, in a café...there are tens of Spanish speaking people in our everyday lives already.
4. CONTINUE BACK HOME:
Hopefully a week in a language course will give you the confidence to practice engaging in Spanish so once you're back home. Ideas include:
A) Seek out a Spanish exchange buddy. You can meet up once a week or more and chat in Spanish for an hour. I found someone on Gumtree, also check for Spanish exchange events on meetup.com. You can do this for free in exchange for your English or if time strapped, you can pay a nominal amount (£8) to only speak Spanish.
B) Keep going with exercises from your textbook to develop the grammar.
C) Read a book in Spanish - I found reading super useful as you have time to soak up the sentence contracts, verb tense usage and note down new words. Start with whatever you feel comfortable with - maybe a short book you've already read in English. Don't go straight for Gabriel García Márquez! Isabel Allende's Cuentos de Eva Luna is a beautiful book of short stories.
D) Head to Latino hang outs to practice what you've learnt at home (google them: bars, restaurants, dance classes) and only speak Spanish!
E) Get into Latin music and look up the lyrics. They're often hilarious, normally a bit sexy (start with the 'me duele el corazón' by Enrique Iglesias). My Colombia playlist on Spotify will get you started.
5. START SAVING FOR A BIGGER TRIP to a Spanish speaking country.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour and take yourself off for the ultimate immersion - plan a big trip (2 weeks or longer) to a Spanish speaking country. They are some of the best in the world. Pick from Spain, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Cuba, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Puerto Rico...the list goes on.
This will give you the perfect incentive to keep learning. You can see, feel and be part of the Latino world - living the culture and speaking their language for 2 weeks or more! It's also a great way to make native Spanish friends - keeping in touch via whatsapp and skype will be great for your language skills.
An easy way to jump straight into a culture, and save $$ is to look for volunteering in exchange for accommodation and food. Good places to start are: workaway.com, wwoofinternational.org or even couchsurfing.com.
If Colombia is on your hit list - and it should be - they speak Spanish with a clear accent, feel free to refer to my eXerK Colombia guides.
It opens up so much of the world and you'll have a great time exploring the Spanish speaking world through the incredible people you can interact with. Enjoy!