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The most rewarding kind of language study I have found is a “hairy dictionary” – an immigrant friend. My friend and I get together weekly, sometimes to study, sometimes for lunch, and sometimes to visit an attraction. I have learned more from her than from all my classes, but more than that we share the joy of friendship. Sometimes we talk language stuff, but often we just talk.
Try to find someone who is still struggling with English. They will be much more willing to invest their time because both of you benefit. Those already fluent in English don’t have much to gain from the time spent.
Do immigrants live in your area? Find an adult ESL program, either through an adult school or community college. That's where you can find the immigrants who are serious about improving their English. Talk to the teachers and offer to volunteer for whatever. It will put you in contact with lots of students of English, and if they sense that you are open to it, friendships will follow. Mexicans tend to be so gregarious, it shouldn't be hard, once you find a way to meet them. My immigrant compañeros would love to find an English speaker willing to practice with them. Most gringos I know aren't willing to spend the time.
Many ESL programs are taught almost entirely in English, to mimic an immersion experience. Some even have a "No Spanish" rule in class. I would expect the teacher would not want you to use Spanish when you're volunteering. The teachers could find helpful ways for you to volunteer. You could listen to students read and help their pronounciation. You could carry on English conversation with them at whatever level is appropriate.
So if you're supposed to use only English, how does it help your Spanish? It helps you make connections with the students and make friends. AFTER class, that's when you and your new friends can work on both languages. Make a study date where you spend half the time in English and half in Spanish. Attend a community event together, even something as simple as the local farmer’s market. Invite them for coffee - Mexicans love their coffee! Remember: In their culture, he who invites, pays. To not do so would be an offense.
If you are blessed with immigrant friends, not only will you learn a ton of Spanish, you will also learn a lot about the culture. Oh, the stories! You will be richer for it.
Now a few consejos:
- There will also be some cultural friction. One week I had three study dates with three different immigrants (an unusual week). Two of the three stood me up, no call, no nothing. In my culture, that is very rude. In their culture, no big deal. Now when I set up a study date, I advise them that, to not show up nor call, is a BIG insult in my culture. Significa que you never want to talk to me again. They are always surprised that it is so offensive.
- If you are a woman, a certain percentage of the men (5-10%?) will think you are trying to pick them up, even if there is a 20 year age difference and they know you are married. I'm serious! Keep your walls a little higher than you would with an American. Now I don't just mention my husband; I make sure to gush about how marvelous he is, and how lucky I am to have him.
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