Many people, especially those who hate textbooks and studying, are sure that finding a Spanish speaking significant other is the key to learning the language. As someone who learned my Spanish in school and then perfected it while living abroad, I can answer this question for you.
Sorry, I’m sure you were hoping for a more definitive answer, but it’s not that easy. The helpfulness of having a Spanish speaking significant other depends on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to:
Whether or not they also speak English
What country they are from
How serious your relationship is
How often you are together with other Spanish speakers vs. English Speakers
The dreaded bilingual
Obviously, if they also speak English, this can be a problem. For one, we tend to speak to people in the language we started out in. If you spoke English before you started dating, chances are you will default to English in your relationship as well. Also, if you know they speak your language, you will get frustrated or simply impatient and use English to express yourself, which is actually the worst time to do it. One of the most difficult plateaus to overcome when learning to speak Spanish is learning how to be yourself and communicate actual feelings and emotions. Your partner may also want to make you more comfortable and switch to English for your sake. If you want to learn something, do not let them or yourself switch! If you only speak Spanish with your partner when it’s easy, you are not going to get anywhere.
Jared and I have both dated a few different Latinos, so I am sure he would agree with me when I say their country of origin can really make a difference. If you learned textbook Spanish, certain accents are going to be really difficult for you. Chileans speak in a slightly more muffled tone and Argentinians have some crazy pronunciation rules. Puerto Ricans have basically perfected Spanglish so speaking with them is more like a lesson in language evolution than Spanish itself. So, you’ll have to hope your partner speaks clearly and doesn’t use too much regional slang, otherwise you might get lost.
There is a big difference between a relationship and someone you hook up with regularly (see our post on Spanish Friends with Benefits). If most of your time together is spent in the bedroom, you are not likely to learn a whole lot, Spanish-wise. You may pick up some sexy sayings, but chances are you’ll be so smitten with their accent that they could be reciting a sales pitch and you’d still be swooning. A more serious relationship, on the other hand, will provide the opportunity to discuss everyday things as well as emotions and opinions, thus aiding you in your quest to speak Spanish fluently. Unfortunately, fights are a great way to hone your language skills.
The group mentality
When it comes to social situations, the language you use is not always up to you. If you spend most of your social time with a bunch of English speakers, you are going to speak English. It would be rude and awkward to continue to communicate only in Spanish with your partner (unless that is the only language they speak). If you spend more time with other Spanish speakers, it will really help your Spanish skills because you will be forced to try to understand everyone while they speak quickly or even at the same time. You will be overwhelmed at first, but eventually, you’ll feel confident enough to jump into the conversation.
If you are considering taking a Latin lover just for the sake of learning a language, I would not recommend it. However, if you happen to find someone who you actually want to date, go for it and remember to be adamant about practicing your Spanish and not taking the easy way out with English. If it is the right partner he or she will also want to help you to learn Spanish.
Check out these other articles to help you Learn Spanish.