My Mom and My iPhone
I wasn’t always fluent in Spanish. In fact, before kids, I rarely used Spanish in my daily life. Everything around me took place in English: I worked in English, studied in English, spoke to my husband in English, and interacted with all my friends in English. Any Spanish I spoke took place in 20-minute daily phone conversations with my parents. But then kids – and the iPhone – changed my life.
I grew up here in the States, and while I had some formal education in Spanish, spelling and grammar were never my strong suits. One of the first things I did when I got an iPhone was to add a Spanish keyboard. While autocorrect is responsible for some epic texting fails, I realized it could actually help me. The Spanish keyboard has been my saving grace: It corrects my misuse of “c” and “s,” puts accents where I need them, and guesses at my words. The end result is that I’m learning and improving my Spanish writing skills.
My mom used to be my personal translator. We had an ongoing text thread with my translation requests. Problem was, she wasn’t always available. Then I found Google Translate. In addition to the MamaLingua app, I use Google Translate daily — it even includes audio, and, unlike mom, it offers instant translation. It’s hardly perfect, but when I’m stuck on a word, Google Translate usually comes to my rescue. (And Mom is always my backup.)
Because of this handy little device we all rely on, my Spanish has improved to the point that I’m often mistaken for a native speaker by native-born Latin Americans. But even with great technology, I’ve discovered the most important tool for improving my Spanish is people. While social media options like Facebook and Skype are helpful, nothing compares to face-to-face interaction for developing your speaking and comprehension skills. It gives you the ability to ask questions in real time, to witness words being used in context, to see how sounds are made in three dimensions, and to create positive, personal memories associated with the language.
In my experience, Latinos love sharing their culture and language. So I encourage you to break out some of the words and phrases you’ve been practicing and try them out on your Spanish-speaking neighbor, the Latina barista at Starbucks, or any other Spanish speakers who cross your path. You’re likely to learn something each time you do, and you might just make new friends along the way.