Miami is a very special place in every aspect. Due to its close proximity to the Caribbean and Latin America, Spanish is a language very commonly spoken everywhere. Not everyone who moves to Miami from a non-Spanish speaking country is really aware of how prominent the use of the Spanish language is.
Prior to moving here, I was actually really excited about the opportunity to learn about a new culture and language. I was born and raised in Germany but have been living in Miami for almost eight years. I have managed to pick up enough Spanish to easily have conversations and understand what people are saying. If you are new to Miami, I’d highly recommend you start getting your Spanish on. I want to share a few tips on how to do it without a formal foreign language education:
1. Watch Spanish TV (novelas)
I kid you not. For whatever reason, a lot of Eastern European countries stream dramatic over-the-top Latin American TV shows called novelas. I know plenty of people from there who have learned Spanish that way. In general, it is a good idea to watch movies and shows with Spanish and put subtitles in your language.
2. Listen to Spanish music
I clearly have an advantage here because I LOVE Spanish music and listen to it on the radio. Yes, it might not be the best Spanish but it doesn’t matter. You are not planning on writing a dissertation in proper Castellano, you’re simply trying to communicate with people. For that, I do think it helps tremendously especially if you know other foreign languages already. You might recognize a word that you know from another language that sounds similar. Also, since the words usually repeat themselves, you will sooner or later figure out some of their meanings. I sometimes
jokingly claim that Daddy Yankee and Pitbull were my Spanish teachers which is actually not that far from reality.
3. Try to make as many Hispanic friends as possible
I made it a point when I did my MBA at Florida International University to make friends with native Spanish speakers. There was a group of other Germans but I decided to mingle a lot with my Latin American classmates. I was listening to them as they spoke to each other and wanted to be part of the conversation. I started understanding more and more and learning new words from them. It also came in handy that they could always translate for me when I wanted to know how to say a certain word.
4. Learn standard slang answers
One thing I learned about the Spanish being used in Miami is that it is often very informal. If you are still too uncomfortable to give full-blown answers, just learn a few staples that you can easily respond with to almost anything:
¡Imagínate! – means: go figure! – can be used as an answer to pretty much everything
¡Mira pa’ eso! – very colloquial. Basically means: look at that!
¡Viste! -can also be used as a standard answer, e.g. “Your child has gotten big!” ¿Viste?
¡No me digas! Means: you don’t say! Can be used in the sense of “really?” when you are surprised to hear something. Example: “I saw Fulano the other day!” – “¡No me digas! I haven’t seen him in forever.”
¡Dale! – must be my favorite Spanish word of all time. It can be used as “ok,” “c’mon,” “let’s go,” “let’s do it,” or “hurry up.” It means a lot and nothing at the same time. If you have ever listened to a Pitbull song, you must have heard this expression. The same applies to “ya tú sabes” which means “you already know.” You see, I was not lying when I said that you can actually learn some basic Spanish from these songs.
5. Date a Hispanic person
Now, if you are already in a committed relationship, I’m not suggesting you dump your significant other. But if you’re still on the lookout for your other half, chances are most people you’ll meet in Miami are probably of Hispanic origin. For me personally, being married to a Cuban American has helped my Spanish speaking skills tremendously. Getting together with his family (and they like to get together A LOT) and hearing them speak has helped me to get more accustomed to the language.
Also, some of his older family members only speak Spanish which has pretty much forced me to learn the language. In the beginning, I would always use him as a translator when I had to communicate with a Spanish-only speaker especially when it came to talking over the phone. At some point when my conversational Spanish became decent, my husband started his tough-love approach and did not do any Spanish phone calls for me anymore. I had to jump into the cold water which brings me to the next point…
6. Just do it!
Just get out of your comfort zone and try to speak Spanish! Start with a few words you know. If you don’t know a word, try to describe what you mean. If you cannot form any complex grammar structures such as conditional clauses, e.g. “I would have gone to the beach if it didn’t rain,” make it a simple sentence like: “It rains. I can’t go to the beach.” People will more than likely understand and appreciate your effort.
Hopefully, these tips help. If you would still like more formal education, there are plenty of classes being offered online. My favorite part of learning a new language is that humor is different in every culture and you get to laugh a lot more. You can only win if you give it a try. ¡Dale!