Taking Spanish lessons while in Buenos Aires can seem like a good idea, but with tutoring costing rising all the time, this can be an expensive option. There are some online guides and apps, but they involve staying inside with your computer instead of getting out there and meeting people. Fortunately, living in a country with over 40 million Spanish-speakers provides many opportunities to improve your language skills for free! Here is the Indy’s top 5 ways to improve your Spanish without spending a single peso.
Utilise Your Best Assets
No matter what your mother, boyfriend or girlfriend has told you, your best asset, at least for improving your Spanish, is actually your English. If you are reading this, there is a strong chance that it is your native language, something invaluable in a city where you cannot get through a journey on the subte without seeing posters emblazoned with “Learn English like a native in only 5 weeks!”.
A quick search of the word ‘English’ in Craigslist Buenos Aires brings up a whole host of people desperate to speak to you and improve their English in return for helping you to improve your Spanish. People offer to meet anywhere of your choice for an hour of conversation in each language. If you think that you have the social skills and enough interesting stories to fill two hours of bilingual small talk with a stranger, then this is for you. A similar choice to Craiglist is conversationexchange.com, where you are paired with a native Argentine who lives in Buenos Aires. This option comes with the added security of knowing volunteers are vetted. Another community that unites foreigners and locals in conversation, Spanglish Exchange, offers free meets for English-speakers on Saturdays.
For more information, see conversationexchange.com and buenosaires.craigslist.org.
Find the Love of Your Life
We’ve all been in the situation. You’re in a boliche at around 6am, feeling worse for wear, and your perceptions might be slightly addled from one too many fernet cokes. Suddenly, through the smoky haze of the nightclub, you see a dashing Argentine, the male specimens sporting a rugged beard and a compulsory checked shirt, the girls looking glamorous and far more enticing than any females in your home country. They shimmy up to you through the reggaeton music and start to dance with you. Five minutes later, they ask for your number, and you stumble home to pass out.
Although the next day you will be stripped of your beer goggles and possibly your dignity, it is more than worthwhile pursuing these elusive creatures. Argentines (especially the boys) love to date. No matter what you look like, they will most likely accept your request of their company, and going on a date means, at the very least, a few hours of free Spanish lessons.
Taking it a step further and landing an Argentine boyfriend or girlfriend means Spanish lessons on tap. They will correct you, teach you dictionaries worth of slang words which will never be useful if you go anywhere outside Argentina, and pay for everything (provided you’re a girl). They will also (hopefully) introduce you to their friends and family, meaning that you will have no choice but to get out of your comfort zone and speak Spanish at all times. Eloping and getting married is not mandatory, but it’s definitely a ticket to fluency.
Play Sports with the Locals
If you’re anything like me, you hate football. You can’t think of anything worse than playing it. However, living in a country that has an almost unhealthy obsession with the sport means that at some point, you are going to have to come in contact with it. One upside of joining a local football team is that you can converse with your teammates in Spanish and learn lots of new vocabulary, such as “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to kick the ball into your face”, and “I think I’m going to pass out”. Of course, not everyone hates football, and it might even be an enjoyable experience for those who are new to it.
Playing a sport or doing any kind of other activity helps you to meet others and make friends, and having a group of Argentine friends is a sure way to integrate into the local culture and, of course, vastly improve your Spanish. Women’s football is common here, so not even the girls have a choice in the matter; everyone should be playing on a regular basis. Aside from being a way to improve your language skills, it will also prevent you from going home obese due to a steady diet of empanadas and steak, giving you an excuse to eat as much as you like. It really is a win-win situation.
A good choice of football team is Buenos Aires Fútbol Amigos, based in Palermo, which welcomes players (boys and girls!) from all over the world to play together in friendly matches. Although a lot of English is spoken here, there are also Argentines and players from all over Latin America who might be interested in pursuing options #1 or #2 above with you.
Buenos Aires Fútbol Amigos have matches on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Weekends. For more information, visit fcbafa.com.
Watch TV/Listen to the Radio
It is not often that you are told that watching TV will help you to do anything productive with your life, but living in Argentina means a whole host of different programmes and channels, all in Spanish. For this to work, though, you need to avoid the urge to flick to the cinema channel and watch reruns of The Butterfly Effect and explore some new things. Canal 7, the state-owned tv station, or any of Argentina’s other publicly-aired channels, are a good choice for news coverage, documentaries and a range of series.
Alternatively, listening to the radio is another useful way to get your head around the porteño accent and learn a host of new vocabulary. El Mundo AM 1070 is especially good with a wide range of music, political and economic discussions and general information to get yourself on top of Argentine current affairs and impress your friends. Another good channel is Radiodifusión Argentina al Exterior, Argentina’s state-owned international broadcast, geared towards foreigners and offering information on Argentine news, culture, geography, history and music, among other subjects. Listening to chart radio is also useful; learning the words to songs is not only a good way to impress people at karaoke nights and in nightclubs, but is a fantastic (and free!) way to improve your Spanish vocabulary.
Give Back to the Community
Voluntary work for a local charity or NGO helps you to feel like you’re making the world a better place; working and interacting with local people and talking to them will help improve your Spanish at the same time. Join anything that interests you; there is voluntary work available in practically any field imaginable. Idealistas.org lists work opportunities and internships for a huge range of different organisations, charities and NGOs in Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities. Find something that interests you, whether it’s providing entertainment at children’s parties or volunteering to teach tango to young people at a cultural centre. Not only will you be dealing with members of the local community who may not speak any English, you could be working with other Spanish-speakers, improving your friend base and giving you no option other than to try and master the language.
For more information, see idealistas.org