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Learning Spanish


I have been trying to teach myself Spanish. As an aspiring social worker on Long Island, I have belatedly come to realize that knowing some Spanish would be a good idea. Of course, I have unreasonable expectations of myself. I expect to be fluent (by, say, next Fall), to the point where I won’t need a translator to help me understand a client who speaks no English, and I will be able to catch every nuance of the different variations of Spanish spoken by Mexicans, Dominicans, Salvadorans, and maybe I’ll pick up some Portuguese while I’m at it. The fact that I can barely say Hello and How are you, at this point, is irrelevant.

I’ve been using a basic Spanish language learning program through my local library, online, and I learn a few new words each day. Ayuda (Help!) looks like it will come in handy. The thing is, I love languages. I’m still trying to work on my French and Hebrew (since childhood) without much success, but with endless effort and enthusiasm. I am currently reading the Harry Potter books in French, and have a Hebrew copy en route.

There’s something wonderful about learning a new language. It gives you an automatic sympathy for the people who speak it that you may not have had any other way. There’s been great joy in discovering that I can pronounce a lot of Spanish words exactly as they are spelled (as opposed to French, where letters drop out without warning). I was thrilled, until Y’s and double L’s started to sound like G’s out of nowhere.

I have tried to practice my Spanish on the dogs, but they are not interested in learning a new language at this point. Cricket is used to some French (un, deux, trois, Jump!) and Butterfly doesn’t mind a few questions in broken Hebrew (Aypho ha kibble? Where is the kibble?) But there’s a limit to their tolerance for my insistence on learning every language but theirs. How have I not learned to woof, bark, arf, yip correctly after all this time? It’s obscene!


Un, deux, trois…



Certain words seem to impress them more than others, though, like empanada, tres leches, and el queso. I think I must say the food words with a particular tone to my voice that marks them out as special. We are a family that is very food motivated.


“Mmm, stairs taste good!”


“Is it worth it?”

As I try to build my Spanish vocabulary, some phrases seem especially important, like: No Hablo Espanol (I do not speak Spanish), and No Comprendo (I don’t understand); and Lo siento (I am sorry) will also come in handy.

I was interested to see that To Write, in Spanish, is escribir. I guess it’s the same root as Scribe, but it makes me think of scribble. I love the idea of being a scribbler. It makes being a writer seem less stuffy and more playful. Then there’s una pregunta (a question), which makes me think of a pregnant woman, as if every question is filled with a sense of possibility and new birth, which it is, isn’t it?

Eventually, I will have to learn more grammar and sentence structure, but for now I’m satisfied with certain phrases that I can make use of right away: Como esta usted? (How are you?), Me llamo Rachel (My name is Rachel), tengo dos perros (I have two dogs), and Gracias (Thank you).



“A bientot! Oops, wait that’s French.”

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

139 responses »

  1. To get my Social Work degree in Texas I had to take 3 semesters of Spanish. It was a challenge for me…but I made it. I know I will never be fluent, but I was happy to learn a lot of it came back when I visited Mexico in December.
    I suspect if I were immersed it would be easier to learn.
    Good for you for challenging yourself…but really do look into the puppy speak…I think its the least you could do!! 🙂

  2. my friend just started a Spanish learning circle, which sounds like tons of fun. We’re both still working on French, but it’s muy interesting to see how the languages can inform the other (and sometimes it’s just nice to take a *break* from one for a little while :P) . It’s also kind of amazing how far you can get with a few key phrases and a basic vocabulary.

  3. I’m learning ASL, “Signing”, been pretty easy so far. Thank Gawd! for You Tube

  4. I’d love to learn Spanish too, but only if I suddenly become fluent in it, impressing others with my sheer brilliance at languages within a mere few weeks of embarking on lessons…

  5. muy bien, amiga…estudia espagnol esta bien! …itś easy language… 😉

  6. Yo tambien estoy leyendo Harry Potter en otra idioma–pero espanol, no frances. Muy buen hecho, y buen suerte a ti.

  7. Learning español is much easier living in a spanish speaking country but I confess – It’s easy to get lazy when hand gestures and Spanglish gets you what you want. Cute dogs.
    Thank you for following the bread crumbs to my blog.

  8. Good for you! If you set your mind to it I’m sure you will be able to pick up on it quickly. It seems so much easier when you have someone else to talk to. Who knows by the end of it all you may be able to woof & bark too!

  9. All dogs seem to like queso. I agree with them, the foodie bits are the ones to concentrate on!

  10. Wonderfully funny and entertaining.

  11. I speak a little Spanish and a little French, but I seem to have only one slot in my mind designated for “foreign language word” — if I learn it in French I forget it in Spanish and vice versa. 🙂
    I think when a Spanish-speaker sees you make the attempt to speak Spanish, it will make them feel more comfortable, regardless of whether you ever get fluent!

    • When I’m trying to remember a word in Spanish I have to go through the list of similar words in French and Hebrew and English and hope that my instincts kick in to tell me which language is which.

  12. i can relate to your struggles with learning a new language. We have lived in Mexico for nearly 10 years now, and I have had some hilarious moments using my Spanish here in Mexico. Well, hilarious now…just plain embarrassing at the time. lol

  13. Good luck with your Spanish. I do the same thing with my fiancèe, where I speak at her in the language I am learning when she asks me a question. She now knows quite a few phrases in Italian and German through osmosis 😉
    If you haven’t seen it already, Coffee Break Spanish is a great podcast for learning important phrases and basic grammar. News in slow Spanish is also good for listening to extended sections of speach but slowed down so you can catch the words and common phrases. Both have French versions too if you wanted to use for French as well 👍🏻

  14. If it helps, I have stories in Spanish on my blog, as well as activities that I play with my students to help them learn the language.

  15. ¡Hola! Estoy estudiando español y quiero ser una trabajadora social tambien. Es una idioma hermosa y necesitamos en esta profesion. ¡Buena suerte!
    Hey! I am studying spanish and want to be a social worker as well. It is a beautiful language and we definitely need it in this profession. Good luck!

  16. Two good programs to learn Spanish are SaySomethingInSpanish and Marcus Santamaria’s Spanish courses. Marcus Santamaria’s course will have you speaking compound sentences in a few minutes and Say Something will have you speaking like a native after one lesson (not with the accent of course).

    I am not affiliated with either. I just loved their programs and frequently go back to review them.

  17. I’ve been using Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish for the last 6 weeks. Then I also speak with spanish speaking people in my neighborhood. I also use google translator. I love it.

  18. Good luck with your Spanish (et al) studies, Rachel. I studied Span., French, and a bit of Russian off and on using text books (pre-Internet) without much result for decades. The Internet is a whole new world where polyglots and resources abound. Finally, I am not an oddball for actually liking language study. Now, I’m in the middle of a course on how to learn languages on your own. It’s by “Lindsay does languages,” a teacher and coach who’s all over the net on FB and Youtube etc. Her enthusiasm keeps me from getting discouraged, she has a great English accent and more resources than you could ever use. Check her out if you have time. P.S. I talk to my cat, and call him Medianoche for my Spanish neighbors’ sake. They love it. His “in-house” name is, of course, Midnight.


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