As a person who makes a living teaching Spanish and English, my advice may seem counter intuitive for my livelihood. Learning another language can be started in a classroom and it can seriously clear up misgivings and confusions about the language but becoming fluent is not about classroom work, it is about exposure. Luckily, locals in our area are the epitome of the “Pura Vida” lifestyle; this allows them to be incredible everyday teachers. Costa Rican employees and folks on the street will take the time to talk to you. Our local Costa Rican populations are some the kindest and most relaxed Costa Ricans I have come in contact with.
Here are some guidelines at getting the most out of your interactions:
1. Slow it down. When talking to a local in English model the speed you would like to be spoken to in Spanish. In order to understand another language your brain needs lag time, it needs to be able to catch up and find the corresponding word you are looking for to extract meaning. Spacing out your words allows you to do that.
2. DON’T CONJUGATE! When attempting to speak to locals please don’t worry about conjugating, that racket comes much later in the game. Your main objective should be fluidity not correctness. When in doubt the word “chunche” might come in handy.
3. Learn Verbs. Spend your time learning the meaning of verbs, not how to manipulate them. Knowing verbs will open up your ability to communicate. When you use them you should speak “pigeon” language, which means you spit out the subject and the verb without conjugating and continue on with the sentence as best you can. For centuries every new immigrant has learned the language in this way.
4. Read the newspaper. Read anything and everything you can in Spanish. Download a translation app and go to town translating words and phrases. To learn grammar and structure there simply is no better way. Try to find side by side readings that have both languages adjacent to each other.
5. Smile and wave, smile and wave! When you are walking through town, going to the supermarket or driving around, look at people, smile at them and/or wave. When you walk into a supermarket look at the attendant, smile and say “Buenas” . When you come up to the counter this is your big chance, this is a teacher, an opportunity to try out those verbs you flipped through while waiting an hour at the bank! No one will be annoyed, nobody in line behind you will tell you to hurry up and if they do, snap your beatific smile and say “Pura Vida Mai”. The next time you see that attendant you will receive appreciation.
6. Relax and laugh at yourself. You came here to be happy, the best way to do that is model the behavior for your brain. Your happiness is many times, dependent of brain chemicals or hormones. They work as the messengers for your brain; they take signals and tell your body how to act. If you smile and laugh a lot, those lymph nodes will create hormones that correspond with happiness. You can play scientist and prove me wrong, go out there and smile, laugh and say Pura Vida all the time and see what happens. I dare you! I double dog dare you! I double secret hush, hush triple dog dare you! Doh!
Some words you might find handy:
Pura Vida: It’s all good!
Mae –(Mah-e ) : Dude!
Buenas: What’s up!
Gracias!: Thank you
Más despacio por favor-Slower please
Sylvia Monge is a language professional and the owner of Spanish for Expats (spanishforexpatscr.com) where she uses her 20 odd years of experience in the classroom to make Spanish fun and rewarding. If you have any questions about learning Spanish feel free to contact her, she’s cool like that.