Learning a language and still not understanding?

Learning a language and still not understanding?


I´ve heard of people taking 4 years of Spanish in highschool, and then going to Spain for a highschool trip and still being absolutely confused.

We´re talking about my sister-in-law who went to Spain back in 1994. I´m just wondering how much variation is available between each dialect. Is it possible that the locals just used different terms for the same things? Sinónimos?

Has anyone else heard of this occuring? Is my husband just creating a weird arguement with me? (He does this sometimes which proves no point at all.)

It´s strange to me because I can understand what I´m hearing, usually.

While I´m at it, I´d like to say that the daily sinónimo y antónimos are a great idea.

updated OCT 2, 2009
posted by quépasa
I've never been to Spain but I kinda like the music :) - radbushi, OCT 2, 2009
I've never been to heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma. - Seitheach, OCT 2, 2009

3 Answers


Being a native Spanish speaker I can say this:

for one, your husband could be trying to prove something. yes. but... it also depends a lot where in Spain she was. In Madrid there is one rhythm and accent, which is actually not hard to understand. Barcelona is a bit more clear. If she went to the Basque country well....that is a whole different story and they speak Euskera, not Spanish, which is the same case in Cataluña, where Catalán is spoken. .. there is also Vasque, Galician and more... all dialects.

You have to also consider that traveling through central and south america you may find also very different accents and languages, and in many places such as Paraguay you may find more people speaking Guaraní, Chilupi and Pai than Spanish, both or a mix of both (which actually happened to me while there).

The same is true for Mexico, where you can hear the Spanish spoke in DF (the capital) or the other Spanish spoken all around as well as Nahuatl (commonly referred to as Aztec), Guaraní and Quechua among others.

Argentine and Uruguayan Spanish are also very different as they sound(to foreigners) closer to Italian than to Spanish in rhythm and beat, probably due to the large amount of Italians who migrated there.

So as you can see.... there are many explanations. Other thing too I have personally noticed in the US is that many will say 'I took 3 years of Spanish in highschool but...' which sometimes amounts to not much. It all depends on what you were actually doing while the teacher was teaching, if you had any interest at all, and where the teacher is from or learned the language, as in many cases I've noticed the Spanish teachers are not even fluent in Spanish.

Hope this helps.

updated OCT 2, 2009
posted by zenejero

I know that I took three years of advanced French in school. Then one day, the teacher decided to bring in some French Canadian students so that we could have conversations with them. I did not understand one thing. I was so excited before the class began because I would finally be realizing my dream of communicating with someone in another language. Well that dream died within a few short sentences.

I think the problem was we didn't practice listening to real conversations. Yes, we were able to understand basic sentences the teacher spoke to us, but we were totally unequipped to really communicate. I can only imagine if I had traveled to France with the hopes of using my three years of study. The most I would have been able to do was follow street signs and read a menu.

So when I decided to learn Spanish, I did things differently. From the very beginning, I focused on listening to Spanish conversations. I would watch Spanish TV, etc, even if I didn't understand a thing. By doing this, I became adjusted to the rhythms of the language. I now realize that having an extensive grasp on vocabulary and grammar is not enough. You must focus on being able to understand the spoken language just as much, if not more. When you think about it, that is the way we learned English. We learned to hear what our parents were saying and then started communicating back to them. Reading and writing came much later. I know I am going on and on about this, but it is a topic that I feel very strongly about. In the past year I have had the opportunity to spend three separate weeks in Latin American countries. I can honestly say I have learned more "listening" during those weeks than I have spending months of reading and studying.

So as you can see, I think it is totally possible for your sister-in-law to visit Spain and not understand things, and probably for the same reasons I just described. As for the synonyms and antonyms, I did get the idea from another user and gave them credit yesterday. But I think it would be good to continue if people enjoy it. It has really helped to expand my vocabulary. smile

updated OCT 2, 2009
posted by Nicole-B
I dig it. Back in the early 90´s when my sister-in-law and I were in highschool, we didn´t have the options to listen to the radio or have the access to the internet that we have today. That is a huge bonus! Thanks for the input. - quépasa, OCT 2, 2009

It may be the accent: I've known people who had spoken American English all of their lives, but couldn't understand Australian speech for several weeks after arriving. That is probably a bigger difference than some slang words you can glean from context and a few idiomatic phrases. I know that native speakers can rapidly distinguish regional accents: I was at a Mexican bar in the US years ago and a man who was originally from Cuba but had lived here for decades came in and said about 3 words before one of the Mexicans asked if he was from Cuba. . .he sounded pretty much the same as the Mexicans to me. I've also listened to videos of native speakers from Spain and they sound a lot different than the people around here, so some differences really are huge.

updated OCT 2, 2009
posted by lorenzo9
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