The idiot’s guide to Spanish

A four-part formula for learning Spanish in Miami:

A study abroad student who recently arrived at UM from Singapore walked in the study abroad office and asked, “Is the native language in Miami Spanish or English?”

When I got here last summer, the Spanish words were in my head, they just seemed to like hanging out there so much they never came out of my mouth. These days I’ve accelerated my skills to picking up Costa Rican guys with my roommate using the following flawless formula.


You know how when a radio station plays the same song over and over again it usually gets annoying? In this case it’s helpful – if you don’t get the lyrics the first time, you can be absolutely assured they’ll play that song five times a day for the next three months, so you’ll catch them eventually. I do get no end of ridicule from one of my friends though. She swears only her mother and her pregnant cousin listen to Romance, WRMA 106.7. I can live with that.

STEP TWO – You can get anything on the Internet:

Ever felt it would be easier to speak a second language if you didn’t actually have to speak the language? Instant “messenging” is the answer. You never sound like the white guy on the beach in Cancun wearing black sandals with his tube socks pulled up too high; because you’re not actually speaking, the pressure’s off. So find a pen pal, invent a personality, and go for it.

STEP THREE – Those who can’t do, teach:

A few months ago, my boss asked me to tutor a kid in a second-year Spanish class as a refresher before the school year began. I agreed, with the proviso that at some point in the not too distant future he would exhaust my knowledge of the language. This happened at the end of the first tutoring session. When the kid came home with his first A in Spanish, however, I was suddenly elevated to the level of goddess of Spanish grammar. Cramming for a Spanish exam is nothing compared to cramming for a tutoring session where you’re going to help a kid cram for a Spanish exam.

STEP FOUR – La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha:

We’d been living in our apartment about two days when the cockroaches invaded. My roommate doesn’t like cockroaches. She attacks cockroaches with a can of Raid, a broom and dustpan, or a furiously whirring vacuum cleaner, whatever is available. Humberto, our maintenance man, does nothing. Well, he doesn’t do nothing. He earns his keep as a conversationalist, telling us, in Spanish, about his daughter’s prom date, his eye for women’s dress sizes, and why he quit drinking. He does nothing about the cockroaches, but he’s great as a Spanish tutor.

I have worked as an English teacher for years, but I never realized until now that how much of a second language you actually learn may depend on how many love songs you listen to, whether you hook up with strangers on the Internet, how bad some kid thinks his real teacher is, or how many dates your apartment maintenance guy’s daughter has. While picking up Central American men may not be not an official step in the formula, should you follow the steps I have outlined above, you too can pass the Spanish proficiency exam and go on to a fulfilling career as a cocktail waitress in a tiki bar on a beach in Acapulco.

Angie Henderson is a graduate student in the School of International Studies.