While it’s true that you don’t have to speak Spanish to live in Costa Rica, you’ll be better off if you can speak and read Spanish when conducting your business affairs or just managing your daily life. Having some Spanish in your repertoire may not equip you to conduct intricate legal transactions, but it will help you follow the process and know when to ask questions. Besides all that, it’s a great way to discover and appreciate Tico culture. In addition to the traditional classroom experience, there are other options available: language software programs and online classes, as well as the usual tapes and workbooks. Regardless of how you choose to learn Spanish, what you want to learn is Latin American Spanish, not Castellan. Dialects vary from country to country and region to region, but in Central and South America, no one speaks the Spanish of Spain. If you have time before you move to Costa Rica, you may want to consider signing up for a conversational Spanish class at your local community college. The pace is slow and steady but the cost is relatively cheap. You can also hire a tutor or sign up with a language school.
For software programs, Top 10 Reviews ranks Fluenz Spanish at number one for beginners; Rosetta Stone comes in fourth and Pimsleur Spanish Unlimited at fifth. All are $150-$200. CNET puts Rocket Spanish in first place; Pimsleur, second, Rosetta Stone, fifth and Fluenz, sixth. Both sites evaluate for teaching tools, extras and price. If you’re looking for an app, CNET rates Babbel Mobile for Android, Duolingo and Rosetta Course at one, two and three. Babbel, available in offline mode for smartphones and tablets, has an extensive vocabulary list, by category, with images and voice recognition. Duolingo is fast paced and uses picture-matching vocabulary, plus it’s free. Rosetta’s app also uses word/picture making in the early lessons, as well as voice matching help for pronunciation. The price is steep, but Rosetta is a reliable brand. Aside from learning the vocabulary and grammar, you’ll need to get used to the rhythms and sounds of Spanish. One of the best ways to do that is through radio and television. Listen to Spanish language programs—my favorite trick is to watch a baseball game with Spanish-speaking commentators. You can follow the action visually while training your ear. Familiar movies and TV shows with Spanish soundtracks are another good way to listen. Whatever way you choose to learn, it’s all for nothing if you don’t speak. In general, most Ticos are pleased you’re making an effort; they’ll gently correct you and not laugh or sneer at your efforts. Learning a language may not be easy, but you did it once in your life, so you can do it again. Living in Costa Rica can be one of the most amazing chapters of your life; it will be so much better, though, if you can read the book and communicate about it, as well.