Harvard students demonstrate how not to learn a language

Sunday, August 10, 2008

In Barcelona, 95% of the population understand Catalonia's native Catalan language, while 74.6% can speak it, 75% can read it, and 47.1% can write it. Probably not the best place to learn Spanish on your first trip abroad.

Here's a page from the Harvard Crimson yesterday about how learning Spanish is hard when using English is so easy. It's a very good example of exactly how not to go abroad to learn a language, and is important because when people go abroad to learn a language they often fail to plan ahead, and either end up wasting either valuable money or time. Those who don't have that much money often work part-time for a number of months or years for the chance to study abroad, and those that have enough money like the average Harvard student are often set up to start working right after graduation, and if the field of work doesn't involve the foreign language then it's not always that easy to find the time for another trip abroad.

Let's take a look at it piece by piece.

Problem 1: If at all possible, do not go abroad to study with large groups of people that share the same language.
On the first night of my summer study abroad program, our teaching fellow led 15 jet-lagged Harvard students through the narrow streets of Barcelona’s Old City to a restaurant off La Rambla, the city’s touristy yet iconic nucleus, which slices through the original part of the city. Brought to a long table on the roof deck of the short building, we met our professor and his family. The sun was setting, the wine flowed freely, and it felt like we could have been in the countryside rather than overlooking a bustling street.

Still in the honeymoon period of my time in Barcelona, I made a comment to my roommate after dinner about how “European” that experience was. Her response? “I don’t know, I mean, everyone was speaking English.”
Study abroad can be accomplished with small groups of people in certain situations, but it's still best done alone. The whole concept of immersion is that one has to be surrounded by a language, and a group of 15 people all speaking the same mother tongue is a huge linguistic barrier to break. Even the physical aspects make it impossible: when speaking in your mother tongue you can talk to a group of 15 people with a loud enough voice, but when each of them is speaking another language you have to deal with 1) the speaker's accent or lack of ability in the language, and 2) the listeners' lack of ability to comprehend it. Unfortunately there's no magic all-encompassing Spanish atmosphere in Spain that wafts into a room and makes everybody all of a sudden start using the language where they wouldn't use it back home.

Problem 2: If you are going to study in a group, you need to set up a few ground rules beforehand.
A day or two later, I asked my friend who had studied here in the spring what she thought. She suggested it was unnatural for people who share a native language to speak to each other in a different one.
Not necessarily. It's unnatural for a group of people who share a native language and who have always used that language only to communicate with each other to suddenly start using another one. If the group has been prepped well in advance before going, then you might be able to succeed. That means establishing a few ground rules, such as penalties for using one's native language, and practicing a lot before setting out. Everybody in the group should have the experience of talking to everybody else in the group in the language before setting out. Divide the group into five groups of three or four for example, talk in Spanish for a few classes, switch the groups up a few times until everybody has had the chance to hear everybody else talking in the language. That helps you avoid the following:
My classmates and I have planned Spanish-only Tuesday, but it hasn’t happened once. My roommate has come in and tried to speak to me in Spanish, but I have trouble understanding her accent.
With a language like Spanish you're going to encounter a number of different accents. In most parts of Spain the c and d in ciudad for example are pronounced like English th, giving thiudath, and in Panamá they apparently pronounce ch like an English sh (ocho = osho). You're also going to hear people with English as a first language using Spanish quite a bit as well, so you might as well get used to it as soon as possible.

Problem 3: Don't go to a region that uses another language as often as the language you're trying to learn.
There is also something ironic about the fact that we are taking Spanish courses in a region where Spanish is not the primary language. While everyone here does speak the language, Catalan is more common, and almost all signs, ads, and menus are in Catalan. The weekend that we went to Madrid, I was reminded that I am actually in Spain.
Ouch. Going to Catalonia to learn Spanish. Sometimes you have no choice in the matter, such as if you wanted to learn Basque, as Basque speakers don't have their own country which means that you're going to hear a lot of Spanish there as well. But for a language like Spanish there's no real reason to go to a place where most people have a different mother tongue. Catalan is very easy to understand and learn for someone who already knows Spanish, but for the student of the language that would be as bewildering as going to the heart of the Gaeltacht to learn English.

58 comments:

Hazem said...

I like the 1st point. Good stuff!!

Anonymous said...

Going on a fancy well taken care of study abroad and staying with your pack will yield zero language learning. To learn a language, you have to live with people and not be around any of your own. Harvard University has dropped severely and is now a rich kid playschool. A few years ago I noted they had a literature class titled "The literature of money." Yes, that says it. And by the way, Fuck You Harvard University. Like many endowed schools, you have been taken over by little greedy middle managers. And you know its true and you do not have the management skills at the top to clean it up. It is just too easy to cater to the rich families and boys and girls. After all, students are "clients" and "customers" now, is that it?

Anonymous said...

Somebody should send Thomas Friedman and Steven Pinker on a study abroad and leave them there.

link0612 said...

Some anonymous didn't get into Harvard :P

Anonymous said...

The key is hanging out with the people there, not with your classmates from the US. Most Spanish (and most Catalans) don't speak very good English. If you make an effort to communicate with them in Spanish, they will be happy. Learning another language through immersion in another country will only work if you actually immerse yourself among the people from that country.

Anonymous said...

link0612, actually, my Ivy is as green as it gets, for a long long time. Slate floors, fireplaces in the classroom, couches in the hall. Billions and billions in endowments. I know what it is that I say. The endowment monies have become a magnet for persons who do not have the priorities that give these institutions their purpose and value. Do you realize Congress had to write a law to make some of these schools return a portion of their investment returns back to financing students? It is conspicuous when someone else has to tell you what to do. Course title "the literature of money" says it all. Pity these poor vacant creature-students once they grow up and realize their comfort is at the cost of US quality of life where for the first time the younger generation is living less well than the former generation. If these things mean nothing to you, so be it.

Anonymous said...

No, I still think you are just some sad Harvard reject :/

zck said...

What does the fact that they have a course called "the literature of money" have to do with this discussion? Are you next going to point out that they have a whole major - economics - that only deals with money?

Also, Harvard is doing awesome things with its endowment to ensure all people can get an education there. Anyone whose family makes less than $60,000 a year is expected to contribute nothing towards tuition. Additionally, all loans were replaced by grants. How, exactly, is that "catering to rich kids"?

StoneCypher said...

such as if you wanted to learn Basque, as Basque speakers don't have their own country

Sure they do. It's called "Boise, Idaho".

Mithridates said...

>Sure they do. It's called "Boise, >Idaho".

Wow, never knew that. A Basque community 15,000 strong. Must make a trip there the next time I'm back in Calgary.

Anonymous said...

I am a Spanish professor who studied in Spain during college, and I definitely agree with this article. I always strongly recommend to anyone studying abroad that they live with a native speaker. Immersion is difficult, and you actually have to make a strong commitment and force yourself to speak and listen to the target language as much as possible in order to succeed, and avoid resorting to your native language. But the effort is well worth it!

josé said...

ok, let's just make some things clear. I am a spanish language teacher from barcelona, and I've been doing this job for eight years now. I do not have the absolute truth about anything, but I know positively that people who study spanish in Madrid, Salamanca or Málaga do not learn more or better language than those who come to Barcelona. In fact, NOT ONE STUDENT, NOWHERE IN SPAIN, get really in touch with native speakers AT ALL. If you go to Spain, say, for four or six weeks to study spanish... who in the hell is interested in speaking to you more than 20 seconds? I tell you: not even the guy that rent you your room. Everyone is sick about these pseudo-tourists that come here just to get drunk, make party and fuck around. This is Europe's playground. And yes, we only want their money. So, stop asking yourselves why they keep going to Barcelona insted of Madrid or Salamanca: the beach, the "international atmosphere", and the chance for getting drunk and meeting potential sex partners IN ENGLISH. They just want to get laid. ¿Spanish language? They don't give a fuck. Or, may I say, yes: a fuck is what they give. They use the class just to MEET PEOPLE -which is a very good thing- and I tell you, guys, and you can trust me in this: the class is the only place they will meet people, because we, niether the spanish nor the catalan people, are not going to spend more time talking to them that we would like to spent with our tax inspector.

And if you think that what I say is not accurate, just try and think how much time you waste, in your everyday life, helping foreign students integrating in your country, whatever country it is. Do you stop 5 minutes in the stairs to speak to the poor french 18 year old girl who is struggling with her English? And if your answer is yes, do you expect us to believe that you do it because you want to HELP HER?


José from Barcelona

Reno said...

Actually Barcelona is a nice place to learn Spanish, most of the people speak it in their daily lives, and people there is highly educated. Also, it is a great place to learn Catalan.

Btw, immersion is not so easy, not only because of the language, but because of the automatical rejection of foreigners people might have (Im experiencing this actually).

Reno said...

In Boise, Idaho, they speak a dialect that cannot be understood by modern Basque people in either Spain or France.

Anonymous said...

Uhh, josé, you don't have a lot of faith left in the human race, don't you? I WOULD help someone struggling with language, not having anything to do with trying to get laid with a girl or boy or anything.
Come to Buenos Aires to learn spanish, people! We DO want you to come here.

Anonymous said...

First lesson:
Barcelona es un gran sitio para aprender español!
Yo personalmente estaría encantado de hacer un intercambio de idiomas (mucha gente que conozco, también)

elfreako said...

#Anonymous 1/15/2009 09:16:00 PM

We Spaniards are friendly to visitors, as you might suppose.

Harold Fowler said...

Wow, does it really come as any surprise?

www.anonweb.pro.tc

Anonymous said...

Oh dear Jose,
Thank you for reinforcing the negative stereotype of Catalan people (closed-minded, grumpy, unfriendly, negative, complaining). I must stress this is not the truth, but only the stereotype. You are obviously not a good teacher, and are bitter about the profession you ended up in. I live in Barcelona, it is a great city, but it isn't the best to learn Spanish in. I lived first in Seville and there people are genuinely interested in learning about you and speaking Spanish to you. Anywhere in the south of Spain or central Spain you will find more open people. But one thing he says is true, if you just come here to have sex and get drunk you won't get a warm welcome, as everybody is sick of that kind of tourism.

elfreako said...

#Anonymous 1/15/2009 10:22:00 PM

I doubt josé will read your comment. His comment was written August last year.

Was living in Seville for a few months. People are really friendly there. But I wouldn't suggest Andalucía for a first dive.

Local dialects are pervasive even in the largest towns in Andalucía. They are most departed from the Spanish varieties spoken elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Thinking you can learn a language in six to eight weeks, especially when you're in large group of English speakers, is just plain silly. I learned Spanish by total immersion. For the first four months, I had absolutely no English speakers nearby. It was difficult, and you have to break through some barriers, but after about four months I was speaking and comprehending with moderate fluency.

Also, the more you try to learn and incorporate the language, the more the natives will cut you some slack - for the most part.

Eric Pratum said...

I've lived overseas twice, once as an exchange student. I guess that I got lucky when I was studying in Germany, because even though there were tons of Americans around, we were the least likely to speak our native language... even when alone with each other. I found it really odd how other English speakers would almost force the locals to speak English with them. Needless to say, our German improved significantly over that of the other foreigners.

Anonymous said...

As an Australian living in the US I continue to be appalled by the lack of good language teaching programs in the US. The educational system is geared to earning points rather than mastering a system of knowledge and to passing multiple choice (recognition memory) tests rather than performing in real life situations. Eight weeks in Mexico will teach a student far more than severa years of Spanish study in a school with a school teaching an American-style language program.

It is really, really sad. And really, really expensive. In this case, there is a correlation between the expense of the education and the dearth of results. The more expensive the training the less competency the student has in speaking the language at the end of the program.

On the other hand, American Latinos who learn the Spanish language by every day communication with there family speak far better Spanish than non-Latinos who have expensive private school and college educations. This competency is greatly undervalued in the US because (a) the tests used to determine language competency for ecducational placement purposes is an extremely poor indicator of the person's communication fluency in the language and (b) the US educational system is a for-profit enterprise so more account is taken of the number of formal "hours of face to face instruction" than of the person's actual skill in speaking the language. In other words, the measures are designed to measure the amount of money a student has spent in the educational system, not the knowledge which has been acquired (either there or elsewhere).

Furthermore, a student who has learned a language outside of the US pay-for-what-you-learn system is penalized for having done so. If they cannot prove that they learned the language "in the educational system" then they are not given the points commensurate with their actual language competence. So they have to take other subjects in the system in order to make up the points required to graduate from an American school or college.

This type of educational-level-determined-by-the-money-paid is the unacknowledged reason why the US continues to slide down hill when compared to the educational achievements of students in other national systems. When educational points and levels are determined by reasonable tests of functional, practical and applicable knowledge then America will be on its way to improving its increasing reputation as an arrogantly ignorant nation. It will also expose the nationally held myth that the US produces the best graduates in the world because it has the best universities. Currently the calibre of a university is measured solely on the basis of the (largely US) published research of its staff members. Imagine an elementary, middle or high school which measured itself by this criteria! Would you send your child to a school on the basis of the number of class lessons published by the teachers at the school? If your child's education consists of assisting the teacher to write more classroom lesson plans has your child got a functional education?

Anonymous said...

Hi! I am a student at Harvard that would like to convey some insight into the Romantic Languages program here, specifically Spanish. Spanish here, even at the lowest level taught, is based on extreme immersion with a native speaker. The only time I heard my teacher speak Spanish was on the first day of class. Within the first semester (which wraps up now, my Spanish final is tomorrow!) they teach the 2-4 year equivalent of high school Spanish.


A huge percentage of our class is based on participation, reducing our need to simply reiterate phrases of a book on some paper, but to espouse normal phrases and idioms in everyday conversation. I can attest to the fact that they try to make learning a language as easy as possible - they even give you the Rosetta Stone software for free if you ask.

They have a whole Spanish literacy section of one our undergraduate libraries where audio/visual aids and books allow you to further immerse yourself into Spanish.

Second of all, smart TA's would recommend not going to countries speaking Catalan, but have recommended Latin American countries where they speak the Spanish we are familiar with. We all receive a packet and a book of info regarding summer opportunities in Latin America in nations that speak similar Spanish.

Do not try to be anti-establishment because Harvard gets misrepresented, there are many more students who succeed and do amazing things in Latin American countries. It's sickening how quick people are to jump on institutions like Harvard because of a faulty perception - as if pointing out the flaws catapults their importance over an institution that is highly selective for a reason - a great education - not elitism.

Anonymous said...

I would like to correct the previous comment, I meant to say I heard my teacher speak ENGLISH only on the first day of class

Anonymous said...

Harvard is purely the tip of the iceberg in terms of non-functional foreign or second language learning. If there are good Spanish teaching schools in the US, they are extremely well hidden.

Try spending several months in Europe, without the school entourage, to get an idea of how very far behind the US is in terms of language teaching.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely ignorant of the previous comment...shame.

Anonymous said...

The US has a Teletubbies approach to language teaching. Students are hampered by the imperfect audio modeling of other students and by teachers with non-native accents. When native speakers _are_ used as models their influence is generally diluted by the school's failure to provide a consistent accent model in the early stages of learning.

It is the equivalent of trying to teach a toddler to speak educated New York American English by exposing them to a series of language teachers who speak educated English with non-US accents (British, Australian, New Zealand, South African) interspersed with thick regional accents from these places and topped up with exposure to US regional accents from the Bronx and the Deep South. Finish the confusion by insisting that the toddlers practice there ill-formed language skills with other toddlers with ill-formed language skills and you have an excellent recipe for impaired language acquisition.

America, you're doing it wrong!

Anonymous said...

I have studied Spanish in Mexico, Nicaragua, Chile & Spain in Seville and Barcelona and the location had little bearing. I would say that one on one learning with a qualified teacher is the most effective method. It need not be too expensive especially if you go to Central America. Larger classes are OK for learning grammar but don't expect to improve your fluency in the 15mins per day that you typically get to speak.

You can do lots of things to improve your Spanish in your home country. You could listen to broadcasts on the internet, listen to audio books, buy the same novel in both languages and practice translating from English to Spanish but at the end of the day it's how much effort you put in. I would say the only advantage of immersion is motivation but that doesn't apply for a 4 week course.

So save your money and time until you have a good level of the language and then go for immersion. And realize that learning another language to a decent level takes a lot of time and effort, so have patience. It doesn't happen by osmosis

Anonymous said...

I studied abroad for a year and I completely agree.

Most important thing is to not live with people from your home country, worked great for me.

Nekane said...

Having just left living in Pamplona Spain for 8 years - it was a "language immersion" for me.. I would not reccomment "immersion" learning in Spain. Each province has their own language. On top of that.. Would YOU want to carry on a conversation with someone with poor English? Nope.. and the average Spaniard does not either. It's safer (my parents were mugged by gypsies in Barcelona) to listen to cope.es or any foreign language radio station over the internet. IMHO I have better conversations with the illegal aliens here in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

I´m Spanish, not catalan, but living in Barcelona form 10 years. I subscribe all the words said by Jose in his previous post!!

Most of you come here to drink, party, beach and fuck and Spanish is just the excuse. Even you dont use spanish in a bar to ask for the bill.

To the anonimus that said that Seville and the south is better to learn the lenguage.. its the most incongrous thing that a Spanish teacher would ever hear and makes us and idea of how good you speak it.

Anonymous said...

After reading all comments and get rid of the headache...

Some things do not make any sense to me.

1-Sevilla as an ideal place for linguistic immersion? you must be kidding, even some spanish from the north would have troubles understanding some spanish from Sevilla.

2-Barcelona maight not be the best place to learn spanish if you end up using your time slaming the bar and going to the Irish pubs around.

3-I understand teh comments about not wanting to talk with a foreigner for more than 20 seconds, I still have people coming and talking to me like to a 3 year old kid and when I answer they get red row blushed. I wish all people around would spend as much time as I do helping other people with poor spanish skills.
To make it clear, I'm a catalan born in Manresa, a little city 60 km away from barcelona, I live in Dublin, Ireland. When I came in Ireland I had so little english I could not even ask for the time, and that's to start with it.
But I did one good thing, I mixed with other foreigners "non-spanish" and I learnt plenty of english in 4 months.

Now, my best friend came in to learn some english for his proffesion, he is flight pilot, but never succeeds. Why? He mixes with other spaniards and never learns a damn extra word to add to his "book", not that he did not try, for the nearly 10 months he stayed, but his results are far from ideal.

Long story short: If you come, get involved and try to be a "one more spanish"

Anonymous said...

what do you mean "as Basque speakers don't have their own country "?....we do have our own country and its name is very easy in english..."Basque Country"...in basque "Euskadi" or "Euskal Herria". What you mean is that maybe only 30% of the people will speak basque.....but it will be the best place to learn basque

Anonymous said...

La verdad es que Cataluña no es el mejor sitio para aprender español, aunque creo que Andalucía, por su fortísimo acento, es aún menos recomendable. Incluso a mí, que soy española, me cuesta a veces entender algunas palabras a los andaluces.
De todas formas, si se quiere, se puede, y puedo asegurarte que la mayoría de extranjeros que vienen a España a "aprender español" lo que buscan es hacer turismo (y para esto Barcelona es ideal). Muchos de ellos incluso nos hablan a los propios españoles en inglés.

_juanan_ said...

Me encata que haya regiones de españa que tengan su lengua propia y la usen, soy Andaluz y me gustaria hablar un idioma propio.
Es cultura española el catalan, el gallego y el vasco... y son idiomas que no se deben de perder por lo que apoyo que en sus comunidades lo hablen.
Somos una nacion de naciones .. como USA

Anonymous said...

You could do one thing to solve point number 3 : let's kill all people that speak catalan.
As a Catalan i am used to be looked down, but that doesn't mean that comments like yours feel very dumb.

Francesc said...

Yes, I had the same problem when I went to Belgium to increase my level of english (my subjects were in english). Almost all the spanish people who were with me made a spanish ghetto, so the firsts days it was impossible to learn new vocabulary or grammar. So, the second week in there I decided to made some friends from other countries, and that was the best chooice I ever made. Now they say that I have the best english accent of all the spanish erasmus they've seen. I'm not proud of that, because it's easy, but come on... it makes me feel better, haha.

About, Barcelona, I'm from there and what I can say about the language problem...Is not true that all people talks in catalan. Yes, maybe in the rural world of the north of Catalunya. But not in Barcelona. Barcelona is a really big city sorrounded by a lot of towns (almost little cities) made of people from other regions of Spain (there is a big % of spanish speakers in there). So, Barcelona is not a really catalan speaker city, it's easier to found someone who usually speaks spanish than people that speaks catalan. About the menu's we usually have the menus in the two languages. Maybe you did a bad chooice, that's all.
Finally, I think that Barcelona is one of the best places (also Madrid or Salamanca) of Spain to learn Spanish because of the accent, is so neutral. So if you are going to Analucia, Aragón or Extremadura think it twice.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I'm from Barcelona, and I work really near to 'Las Ramblas', and every time I see tourists walking down this street, I think the same:

'They think they are living a spanish experience?'

'Las Ramblas' is prepared for tourists, everything is prepared and faked. Prices, foods, drinks, everything.

If you want to have a good exprience in Spain, you can go 'Las Ramblas' in Barcelona, but if you want to learn/see/understand how Spaniards live and think, 'Las Ramblas' is the last place where you should go.

Its like going to the streets around the empire state building, its all about tourism, not American live style.

Elena said...

Well, Barcelona is not hell-for-language learners but it certainly may seem confusing for some people, especially if they are beginners and ignored that Catalan existed. The film "L'Auberge Espagnole" is a wonderful satire of what it can be like (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283900/). This said, my two tips as someone who learnt English basically by living abroad (in Ireland, Scotland, the US and Canada)are:
1) get a job. Any job that requires that you use the target language or at least puts you in contact with native speakers of that language (plenty of those even in the US). And stay in that one city at least three months.
2) if you feel lazy, at least sign up for an activity that forces you to socialize with the "natives". A film club, dance lessons, a gym, trips, the local Jonas Brothers' fan club, convert to Catholicism, whatever. Just force yourself to spend at least one hour a day outside the expat fishbowl.
3) For the particular case of Spanish, if those two fails, joing a French for foreigners course in France, or pretend you are Polish in an English-language course in Ireland or Britain. You are sure to find dozens of Spanish kids in their own Spanish-speaking fishbowl who won't only *love* the fact that you can say two words in Spanish, but will also speak Spanish non-stop, all the time!

mAhnuel said...

Well... I live and go to university in barcelona and have had the chance to meet many students from abroad that come here to learn the spanish language. Im catalan born, so I speak both languages spanish and catalan. The first thing you notice is that foreign students always travel in packs, have serious issues to relate to native students, and most native students dont try to even make the effort. But some of the people that come, do manage.

A couple of American guys from UPen came here a couple of years ago, and they left speaking spanish and catalan perfectly, how did they do it? First the met me, and second, they knew that they had to make an effort so these two guys who were very good friends, decided to take different subjects and in spanish. There they were in classes without any other foreign students sitting down with natives. So the need to socialize made em meet the people who could help them. They were staying for 6 months and ended up 1 year. They left speaking both languages, and my spanish friends, who could barely speak english, ended up havinga better than average english level.

If done well, its enriching for everyone.

Empoderamiento said...

Hi guys. I am a Catalan living in the UK. I can ensure you that Catalonia is an excellent place to learn Spanish as 100% can speak, read and write it. Young university students will be delighted if they can exchange conversation English/Spanish.
The most important is avoiding to hang out with people from your own language background.
The same happen to Spaniards when they go to learn English to the UK.

Anonymous said...

I, Spaniard, say:

Andalucía: warm people but bad spanish.

Catalonians: the best city in Spain but the most unsociable people.

Madrid: In the middle of both. But also a bit unfriendly city (differents reasons)

And from Madrid to the North, the weather is not so sunny as the people from Europe hopes to have when they got here.

My advice: Valencia: good weather, beach, sea, paella, quite big city... They speak another dialect called "Valencian" similar to Catalonian but is not so intense like Barcelona and the people is much more open-mind.

For sure: I'm not from Valencia. And excuse my english level but I'm spanish.

Anonymous said...

- "With a language like Spanish you're going to encounter a number of different accents", cause in English there's just one accent right?

- There's also Galician but, who cares? it's not sunny there

Anonymous said...

CATALONIA IS NOT spain

Aepac said...

Hi eveyone;

I will present myself; I'm native form Barcelona, in my family everyone speaks Catalan but of course we all know Spanish since we have all the TV channels -except 3 or 4- in Spanish and we all have done Spanish in school.

With my friends I speak Catalan too and we discussed, several times, about how pathetic is the behavior of English and USA students in Barcelona and specially in "Las Rambas", so after reading this post, I will try to explain myself and give some advises -REAL ADVISES- for next coming tourists...

1. Don't believe those people making generalizations about Catalans or Spanish, as in the rest of the world you can find in Barcelona open minded people, cool people, retardeds & nerds, so just try to be nice and people will be nice with you too.

2. Please, and I repeat PLEASE, don't buy those stupid "mexican" big hats. Spain is not Mexico, I really don't understand why tourists -and specially Americans- buy them, there's NO relation between those hats and Spanish or Catalan tradition or culture.
If you want to get a really typical Catalan hat ask for "la barretina". Imagine what you would think about a group of guys in the middle of your town or city, dressed up with a viking hat(...) yes this is the image that these tourists send to native people of Barcelona...

3. Avoid "Las Ramblas" NOTHING from there is even form Catalonia or Spain, it is all prepared for tourist -so much expensive, full of pick pockets and black hookers just trying to bother you- so instead for example, try to have a walk around "Gracia", in my opinion, the best neighborhood of Barcelona. And yes, full of bars where you can have a beer for the spanish real price and of course get drunk too.

4. And my final and last advise, if you really want to learn SPANISH -or any other language- its of common sense that you will learn it properly going alone to another country, not with your friends, and staying there as much as possible. You do not need to be very smart to get it...

Have fun and hope to see you soon in Barcelona.

P.S: If you want that people speaks you in Spanish, just ask it properly and they will, EVERYONE and I repeat EVERYONE in Catalonia understands and speaks Spanish perfectly.

Anonymous said...

People is very diverse everywhere!!! And you can find stupid or kind people in every region of Spain... Not rely on clichés and experience for yourself, it happens in every country.

PD. I'm sure you could check some different accents on YouTube, for example.

Anonymous said...

Barcelona is not a very good place to learn Spanish. As pointed out in the article, you will find most signs and information in Catalan. It is a lot easier if you go to another Spanish city (Madrid, Seville, Salamanca...) where you actually find everything in Spanish (not only the speakers)

Anonymous said...

If you don't want to go so far to learn Spanish you can come to MEXICO. And get some fun too.

Saludos,

Amateur dumbs reader said...

This is a message dedicated to the bunch of tontopollas ofended on the article above (sorry, english speakers, but it must be written in spanish):

Queridos barceloneses míos, en Barcelona no hay dios que aprenda buen español por la sencilla razón de que habláis como si tuvierais la boca llena de polla. ¿Vosotros os atrevéis a decir que en Andalucía se habla mal el español? Tenéis los cojones cuadrados.

Queridos vascos míos, ¿de verdad pensáis que a los estudiantes de Harvard les importe un pimiento qué sea Euskalherría? Despertad, pequeños tocacojones.

Anonymous said...

Saludos a todos. Si queréis podemos practicar el español por aquí, o lo que sea.

Anonymous said...

Me juego el cuello a que nadie de fuera lee este artículo del año de la polka.
Cuantos le caerán al Jerez, 8 goles?

Anonymous said...

As Spaniard I can give some advice.
It is impossible to have it all: to have fun and learn a lot. Barcelona is a nice city: international, at coast, good architecture... But if you really want to learn Spanish you have to change your mind and go to a different place.
Do not hang out with Americans; otherwise you will only speak English. To learn the language must be your main goal. That means studying and making an effort. If you want to have sex or get drunk you are missing the point (I had a lot of American graduate students at my work that came here to do exactly that, mainly in the spring semester). I will give you a good example: I tried several times to have exchange conversation meetings with Americans without successes. It seemed they want to use the system to meet beautiful girls or handsome guys instead to learn a language. I have a PhD, my English is fluid (I expended 2 years in California), I am polite, nice, and not ugly, but it was not enough.
Do not go to regions of Spain with their own language or a strong accent: Catalonia, Basque country, Galicia, Andalusia, Badajoz...
Besides, in some of those places the politicians and radicals are using the language as a political weapon, and this issue is polluting everything there, giving you extra troubles.
If you avoid those regions you can learn a good Spanish, the "corner stone" of the rest of dialects and versions of the Spanish (including those at South America). If you do it in that way you will not have troubles with "s" and "c" and so on. Avoid people poor educated too. Some regular people do not speak a correct Spanish.
I hope my comment helped.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

We speak Galician in Galicia!!!!

GALIZA IS NOT SPAIN!!

Anonymous said...

SPAIN IS NOT SPAIN

Anonymous said...

We speak Galician in Galicia!!!!

GALIZA IS NOT SPAIN!!

Anonymous said...

As Spaniard I can give some advice.
It is impossible to have it all: to have fun and learn a lot. Barcelona is a nice city: international, at coast, good architecture... But if you really want to learn Spanish you have to change your mind and go to a different place.
Do not hang out with Americans; otherwise you will only speak English. To learn the language must be your main goal. That means studying and making an effort. If you want to have sex or get drunk you are missing the point (I had a lot of American graduate students at my work that came here to do exactly that, mainly in the spring semester). I will give you a good example: I tried several times to have exchange conversation meetings with Americans without successes. It seemed they want to use the system to meet beautiful girls or handsome guys instead to learn a language. I have a PhD, my English is fluid (I expended 2 years in California), I am polite, nice, and not ugly, but it was not enough.
Do not go to regions of Spain with their own language or a strong accent: Catalonia, Basque country, Galicia, Andalusia, Badajoz...
Besides, in some of those places the politicians and radicals are using the language as a political weapon, and this issue is polluting everything there, giving you extra troubles.
If you avoid those regions you can learn a good Spanish, the "corner stone" of the rest of dialects and versions of the Spanish (including those at South America). If you do it in that way you will not have troubles with "s" and "c" and so on. Avoid people poor educated too. Some regular people do not speak a correct Spanish.
I hope my comment helped.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

Me juego el cuello a que nadie de fuera lee este artículo del año de la polka.
Cuantos le caerán al Jerez, 8 goles?

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