I didn’t study Spanish first, but actually Latin in high school. After learning the complexities of Latin, Spanish was a breeze. It was also more fun because we moved to West Texas where people actually speak the language. My high school Spanish seemed to stick, even though I’m always talking to people who have totally forgotten whatever language they learned in school. Perhaps they didn’t have a true love for language, or perhaps they just never made opportunities to continue their studies.
During high school, I had two labor-type jobs, so I got to work with several Spanish speakers. I can’t repeat many of the colorful metaphors that I learned, but it was a good experience. It actually did help reinforce what I was learning in school. At the end of my junior year in high school, I went on the Spanish Club’s trip to Mexico. Traveling to a Spanish-speaking country is obviously a great way to boost your skills. I created an audio-scrapbook for the trip and got 3 hours of transferable college credit from a junior college.
When I went to college, I took CLEP tests – advanced placement tests for Spanish. They actually awarded me 14 college credits from my test results. Wow – that saved me one entire semester in college. In college, I didn’t major in Spanish but almost got a minor. If I remember correctly, I had one class in conversational Spanish, and two classes in Spanish literature. I was also involved with Spanish Clubs and Honor Society on campus.
Later, when I was out in the working world, I did self-study in French, Portuguese, and Hebrew. I discovered the Pimsleur system and the government FSI courses (this was still 10 years before the internet!). I went on a couple of trips to Brazil, where I spoke probably butchered my limited Portuguese with a lot of Spanish, but I could make myself understood.
Finally, in 1995 I got to live and work in a Spanish-speaking destination, San Juan, Puerto Rico. While I could have used English on the job, I tried when possible to use Spanish, and the co-workers were encouraging. I was there for about nine months and often found myself starting to think in Spanish instead of English. I would have learned even more if I had stayed in someone’s home, instead of living by myself. After studying a few more languages, I have learned what works and what doesn’t. I decided to create my own Spanish online learning community. We have several native Spanish speakers supporting our forum and creating short lessons.