What Happened To Speaking Spanish? Expat Confessions

It’s 2am, the bar is closing down and the young female manager has walked the last patron out the door.  She walks to the back of the restaurant and lets in the cleaning crew.  The crew consists of 4 cleaners from Mexico and they don’t speak a word of English, the manager doesn’t speak any Spanish.  This is a daily routine and over time they learn to communicate.  Through spending a little time playing charades, she was able to get them to understand, and after several weeks, the communication became a mix of charades and Spanish words.  This was her first taste of speaking Spanish.  Ah, the beauty of learning new things.

Speaking Spanish isn't coming as quickly as we would like. We really need to focus on learning the language and becoming more fluent. Read more on WagonersAbroad.com


This was me 20+ years ago, when I was working as a restaurant manager in San Diego California.  At that time I had never formally taken a Spanish class.  In high school a foreign language was required and I opted for French.  So for me this was the beginning of learning Spanish.  Several months later, I actually moved to Tijuana for a year and crossed the border each day, into the USA, to go to work.  Again, I picked up a little Spanish here and there from the locals and especially the neighborhood kids.  From that moment, I knew I wanted to be fluent in Spanish.  These learning moments have always stayed with me.

Visions of grandeur

A few years later I met and married Alan, started a family, and traveled the world.  With what little Spanish I knew, it got us around and helped with making new friends.  Fast forward to us moving to Spain in August 2012 and my visions of grandeur.  I just knew by living in Spain, we would all become fluent in Spanish and finally my dream would naturally become a reality.  Of course the primary goal was to make sure the kids were fluent in Spanish, so that is what we focused on.

Alan and I did attend a resident course a few hours a week for several months, which helped bump us to a higher comfort level with our speaking.  I thought just living in the country we would naturally just pick up the language.  To some degree we have, but not to the level desired.  Of course we also assumed that after several months of a resident course, we would be just chatting away.  In hindsight I don’t know what in the world I was thinking.  What dream land was I living on?

living abroad, what were we thinking. For the adults, learning Spanish is more difficult than we expected

I know many of you had similar expectations for us.  You all thought we would be in Spain a few months and just pick up the language.  You are probably also thinking “For goodness sakes, it’s been 4 years what is wrong with you?!”  It is a bit embarrassing for, as we know people have the same expectations we did.  The reality is, it just takes time and loads of work.  It also needs to be our priority and honestly other things have taken that slot.

Burn out!

We do have local Spanish friends and we do hold conversations, but we don’t seem to jump to that next level.  The reality of this being more work than I ever anticipated was finally settling in.  We stopped attending the resident classes, as it was time to focus our time on earning money, helping the kids adjust, and making other travel plans.  We knew just enough Spanish to get by day-to-day.  The need to learn more for everyday things wasn’t pressing.

Learning Spanish was no longer the top priority for the adults.  We knew we loved living in Spain and would need to improve, but we also knew we loved this new lifestyle we created.  We placed our priority on coming up with ways to keep this lifestyle going.  We had only planned to be gone for a year or two, so finances and earning income was where we needed to spend our energy.  At that point learning Spanish took a back burner in our daily lives.

Of course we spent 2 years in Spain and then traveled in Southeast Asia.  When we returned to Spain the spring of 2015, we planned for it to be our home once again.  That summer, Alan spent a week volunteering as a native English speaker, for a company with a language immersion school named Diverbo.  Their English immersion program is called Pueblo Inglés.
Almunecar Spain Roman Bridge of Cotobro from the riverbed


Diverbo is a company that has an English language learning program.  The idea is that Spaniards who are interested for personal and/or professional reasons can speak with native English speakers.  Those English speakers may be from England, America, Australia.  Any country where English is spoken as the primary language.  The Pueblo Inglés program brings those English speakers and Spaniards together, and everybody speaks; in English.

There are many one-on-ones where an Anglo is paired with a Spaniard, and they speak about a certain topic, or interest.  There are group sessions where there is one Anglo and a few Spaniards.  The program has many different activities, skits, presentations and the big rule is that we’re always speaking English.  The program lasts for a week and runs from morning through to late night, including meals.

The proficiency of speaking English varies among the Spanish, and some people have a harder time than others, but at the end of the week, the English spoken has usually improved greatly.  It is the ultimate in immersion programs.


He came back from that week away energized and excited about their program.  Right before his eyes he watched people improve their English-speaking skills.  it was full immersion, but it took people out of their comfort zone.  It launched them into situations outside of the day-to-day life.  He mentioned they also had a Spanish immersion program, Pueblo Español.

We both thought it would be great to attend Pueblo Español someday, so we looked into it.  After doing a little research, we discovered we needed to confidently speak Spanish at a confident A2.2 level, in order to attend the immersion week.  Ug, How the heck do we know what level we are?  Of course we think we are doing pretty well, but took an online assessment and it appears we have some work to do.

Language levels:

  • Basic Speaker
    • A1 Breakthrough or beginner
    • A2 Waystage or elementary
  • Independent Speaker
    • B1 Threshold or intermediate
    • B2 Vantage or upper intermediate
  • Proficient Speaker
    • C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced
    • C2 Mastery or proficiency

When we go online and review the definition of each level, we feel we fall into the A2 range, but the truth is we have several gaps in our vocabulary.  In general we understand what people are saying to us, but not really every single word.  We have not mastered verb conjugation each tense, so it all comes down to grammar and vocabulary.  The levels are also measured by understanding, speaking and reading/writing, so we don’t have all of those boxes checked.

Back in the saddle

With that in the back of our minds, and knowing we were now living in Spain with an open-ended timeline, it was time to get back in the classroom.  Spanish needed to be a priority.  At the same time, we started working on building our local Almuñécar site. That fall, our resident card was renewed for 2 more years.  We learned that our next renewal would be for 5 years and at that renewal we would also be able to work.  This was great news!  Once again, we were trying to build the foundation for business and steady income, layered with the need to learn Spanish.

It was off to the local language school for intensive lessons and we were determined to learn more and come out fluently speaking Spanish.  We attended 6 weeks for 3 hours a day and were completely exhausted each day.  Yes, it really wipes you out.  Again my expectations were a little off.

TCLanguages Coffee Break On the Paseo in Almunecar - Costa Tropical Spain

Crazy expectations once again!

I really thought we would be fluent after spending 5 days a week, 3 hours a day, for 6 weeks in a classroom speaking Spanish.  I have to say, both Alan and I did jump to new levels and it really did work, but not to the level of fluency we were hoping.  Our brains were mush after so much time and we needed a break for the winter holidays.

I must confess, we would only speak Spanish in the classroom and a little bit with our friends and locals.  We would speak English in the home, our TV only has English channels and we work and write in English each and every day.  Our world is in English, excluding the little bit of time we were in class or doing homework.

Well, just as we did before, it is very difficult to get back to class after taking the break.  Next thing you know another year has passed and we still aren’t fluent!  Oh this is so much work!  It is obvious it hasn’t been our main priority, otherwise we would be fluent. I know it sounds like an excuse, but we have had other priorities.

A new twist

This fall, Alan had the opportunity to give a week of full Spanish immersion a trial run.  His Spanish immersion week in Ronda was amazing!   He lived with a local family, who didn’t speak any English.  He attended daily classes and activities and returned home with an improved level of Spanish.  His confidence and skills were noticeably improved.  One week, just isn’t enough, but with baby steps and a bit of study in between, this can work.

El Banco más bonito del mundo Loida Galicia Spain

Exciting News!

Here we are again in autumn, and realizing we need to get back into a classroom, but this time we also have a driving force other than just our desire.  This time we have big news and another dream to fulfil.

We were in contact with Pueblo Español asking what we would need to do to attend one of their immersion courses.  They were delighted with our interest and that both Alan and Lars have volunteered for their English programs.  They have agreed to work with us and help guide us on our path to learning Spanish!

Let’s get those expectations right this time!

Now mind you, i am just going to remove the word fluent and just say improved Spanish.  We are fluent in certain aspects of our lives, so we just want to expand our language skills.  I want real expectations!

Bottom line is we want to be better at speaking Spanish, and we want to have idle chit-chat with our friends.  Our minds are bursting with things to say, but our mouths just don’t spit out the words.  With Spanish we are in the limbo land of frustration and living the status quo.  It is time to have another dream be the driving force to reaching new levels.

The Big Dream!

Alan and I both have a dream of attending Pueblo Español, an intensive Spanish course in Spain.  This is 8 days of full immersion, with over 100 hours of speaking Spanish!  Yikes!  We know it is 1:1 communication, involving speaking over meals, chatting with a variety of native Spanish speakers, participating in skits and presentations in Spanish, and even enjoying evening parties.  There are so many different situations and circumstances, which will only increase our confidence and vocabulary.

We know for certain it will bring us to a new level we have never reached before.  That said, we have loads of work to do, just to get our foot in their door.  After speaking with the director of Pueblo Español, she is going to help us come up with a plan to meet our goal and attend in 2017!  We aren’t certain if this is going to be a 3 month or year-long journey, but one thing for sure we will share it all with you.

Again, we have another driving force behind this all, we want to build a business from our Almuñécar site.  We want to lay the foundation for this business over the next year, as well as improve our Spanish.  When our residency is renewed in the Fall of 2017 and we are allowed to work, we want to be ready with our business plan.  We want to be ready to speak at many levels in Spanish with the locals.

This is the dream, this is the plan!

Adventures with Anya Tandem Paragliding in La Herradura Spain

Speaking Spanish – what’s coming up?

Over the next few weeks we are going to come up with a learning plan and hopefully have measurable ways to show you our progress.  You are going to watch us, help us and cheer us on, as we pave the way on our path to Pueblo Español.   It is exciting and scary all at the same time, but we figure if we tell you about, then we need to deliver.

By the way this is called accountability!  We need to get a manageable routine, which doesn’t give us burn out, yet helps us improve.  Once we have that plan, we will share it on the blog.

If you have any suggestions or thoughts we should consider, please feel free to comment.  Perhaps we can work it into our learning plan for speaking Spanish.

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Speaking Spanish isn't coming as quickly as we would like. We really need to focus on learning the language and becoming more fluent. Read more on WagonersAbroad.com

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