Asking a Neighbor for Help Learning Spanish

I’ve been trying to teach myself Spanish for a few years now, with a limited degree of success. So far I’ve read books and dictionaries, listened to tapes/CDs/Podcasts, used Rosetta Stone software, watched Spanish TV channels, listened to Spanish radio, etc. I can muddle my way through signs and products written in Spanish, and I can pick up the gist of a conversation if I hear it, but I don’t have the confidence to jump into a conversation.

There is a family across the street whose first language is Spanish (not sure of the dialect, but I think they’re Cuban), and I was considering asking one of them to help me build up my confidence speaking in a more natural setting. I know them, and by that I mean we’re friendly. I’ve been over to help with their truck a couple of times, we wave if we see each other leaving for work in the morning or working in the yard; typical neighborly stuff. But I’m just not sure how they’d react if I just went up and asked them, and I’m wondering if I did, is that an odd (or just plain creepy) thing to do?

I try to turn this around and wonder how I’d react if they came up to me and asked for me to help them practice their English, and I like to think I’d be happy to help them, but I couldn’t dedicate an hour a day to it. And money would be nice, but I don’t think I’d accept any as long as it didn’t become a pain in the ass.

So what say you, Dopers? Is this an okay idea, and if so, any ideas on how I should approach them? If they agree, should I offer to pay them, or would that be insulting?

What I would do instead is find a community center or other organization that offers ESL classes. Get in touch with their ESL instructor or volunteer coordinator and ask them to set up a language exchange with someone who is trying to learn English – you’ll spend a half-hour or so talking in English and then you’ll switch to Spanish. Hours arranged as you both see fit. That way you’ll find someone who’ll get something out of the arrangement and will be motivated to keep it up.

There are also websites who match people up for this (none that I’ve used personally, though). Or, you can just put up a craigslist ad.

You could also ask the family if they know someone to help you practice – if they want they’ll jump in and offer. If they don’t offer … well, there you go. I personally wouldn’t ask for language practice time specifically. But if you were interested in getting to know them as well as learning a language, what about just inviting them over for BBQ or something? If they know you it might come up more naturally.

Just because someone speaks a language is no indication he understands the language or can teach it. What if the kid across the street asked you to help with his conjugations of English verbs?

I think OP is just looking for conversation practice, not grammar instruction.

I speak English and a little Spanish, and I have neighbors who don’t speak English–only Spanish. They come to me for help translating, and I admit that sometimes it irritates me. They aren’t new to living in the US, but they don’t know more than a couple of words of English and that hasn’t changed in the many years they’ve been my neighbors. It’s not just reading things for them or explaining things–sometimes they want me to call a business on their behalf, for example. I like them–they’re good neighbors–so I do help them out, but sometimes I’m tired and not in the mood to struggle through a difficult conversation. I’m not fluent.

What counterbalances the occasional irritation is that sometimes they help me out. Not as much as I help them, but enough that I know they appreciate my help and don’t just take it for granted. And of course, if I ever ask them for help, they drop everything to give it. It’s just that I don’t ask often, because it’s difficult for me to hold that conversation as well, so I don’t bother if I can find an alternative.

If it were me, I would try speaking Spanish with your neighbors when I had contact with them for other reasons so that Spanish practice doesn’t become the point of the interaction, just a nice bonus. I know it’s hard to work up the courage to do that, but any time I have tried to use my Spanish with a native speaker, I have always gotten a very friendly and appreciative response. So just try speaking Spanish to them the next time you interact, and ask if they mind if you try your Spanish when you talk to them. Let it just be part of the neighborly interactions and see where it leads. You might end up being friends and not just neighbors.

Of course, everybody is different, so who knows? Maybe they’d be willing to have more frequent conversations just for the sake of helping you learn. I can only answer from my own perspective–I don’t have time or interest in teaching my neighbors English, so if they asked, it would be asking too much. If they had more English and wanted to try it when we interacted for other reasons, however, I’d have no problem with holding the conversation in English so they could practice.

This is correct, and thanks for the advice. I really don’t want to have to commit to classes, as I’ve got a pretty demanding job and don’t know if that’d have the flexibility I’m looking for. Like the BBQ idea though.

Also, thanks for your advice as well Lavender. This might be the way I go about it. I guess I’m a bit worried about mangling their language if I just throw it out there at them, but I’m sure they’d understand.

When I’ve lived abroad, everyone and their dog wanted me to help them learn English.

To be honest it was really annoying. I didn’t have time to give one-on-one instruction (it takes time to prepare even for casual conversation lessons- it’d be even more annoying if I wasn’t an experienced teacher), usually the people asking were more into the idea of learning English than the actual process of it, and every time I tried it it just ended up being a lot of work for something that really rarely benefited either party.

I also suggest you look into conversational classes (it should be plenty easy to find “drop in” classes), or simply making real friends with Spanish speakers. You’ll learn best in a setting where everyone wants to be there, and where either the people are experienced teachers or have a good reason to want you to learn.

They might be happy just to spend an hour with you drinking nice coffee and eating excellent pastries (that you provide) - or beer and snacks - conversing in Spanish to the extent you’re able. If you make it a pleasant, social thing - but without any subterfuge.