Most expats will probably agree that Buenos Aires can be a difficult place to learn Spanish. With all the crazy slang (aka Lunfardo), weird accents (shh shh shh) and the use of “vos,” it is really different from the Spanish spoken in all other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Plus it seems that every Argentine already knows English and would really rather just speak to you in in it rather than deal with you trying to stutter out a few phrases in Spanish. I get it, they want to practice too, but we came from thousands of miles away to do it!
I remember when I first arrived in Buenos Aires with my very basic classroom level Spanish and I thought I was great. Then my first night out on the town someone asked, “de donde sos, vos?” and even this simple phrase (where are you from) was so different from anything I had ever heard before that I just stood there dumbstruck. It took me a few months just to re-learn all those simple words and phrases that I had finally solidified after four years of high-school language class. Words like “pileta” instead of “piscina” or “pollera” instead of “falda” or “palta” instead of “aguacate.” (Just in case those were pool, skirt and avocado). Another problem that I have found is that although I’ve made some amazing friends over the past few years of living in this city, the majority were other expats. Expats love fellow expats… we just understand one another. Only problem is the common language for all these expats is English. So if you are working in English (teaching or whatever it may be) and hanging out with friends in English, how on earth is the poor expat supposed to learn not just Spanish, but Argentine Spanish??
Well, if you find yourself in this conundrum, here are some things that I’ve done that have really helped.
1. Join a conversation exchange. There are plenty to choose from online. Here’s one that I’ve had success with. You’ll receive a lot of messages and you may have to weed through them a bit, but I ended up finding someone that quickly became a friend and we ended up meeting almost every week for about 6 months!
2. Date an Argentine! Maybe it’s a bit blunt, and obviously would take some effort… but with all the millions of good looking people in this city it shouldn’t be so hard. And once you’ve established your relationship, start getting to know his/her friends and family. It might take a while before you can confidently insert yourself in a group conversation but once you get there you’ll feel like anything is possible.
3. Take an intensive course at a Spanish school. I did this for a week at Expanish and loved it. My teacher was Argentine and made sure to teach us a lot of those common expressions that we hear so often in the streets (“Che, boludo!”). Another school that I’ve heard great things about is the LV Studio Language school. They also provide classes with native teachers and offer free conversation classes! It’s important when learning to have at least some grammatical background, just to make sure that while you think you are speaking incredibly fluently, you actually are. You know, subjunctive and all that good stuff.
4. Volunteer! Join a club! Do yoga! Take a cooking class! Do a wine tasting! Any of these options is a great way to immerse yourself into the Argentine society and make connections with other people in their language. The best way to learn the words of the people is to speak with those people, and you may make some great friends along the way! Be open for conversation wherever you may find it, be it with the mother and daughter sitting across from you on the subway or with the person drinking a coffee at the table next to you.
The tools to learn are everywhere. Just being in Buenos Aires is the best step you could have made in the direction of becoming fluent!