You’ve heard me mention the Cobin scale for Chilean Spanish in the past. If not, here’s an entry I posted on it – The Cobin Scale of Spanish Proficiency.

For most of us, level 10 will be forever elusive. Unless we started studying Spanish at a young age, the learning curve can be long and challenging. But even those who are proficient in Spanish can find Chilean Spanish difficult.

As an adult, it will likely take you months to get to a level where you can form simple sentences, and it will be frustrating for you to get your point across. With hard work, dedication and good training, you could get slightly conversant in less than a year, but that would be exceptional. On the average, it takes adults at least three years of effort to become conversant. I’ve defined conversant as:

passably bilingual and “fluent;” can communicate with some difficulty, understand about 80%+ in social or church settings where the context is known, can give an intelligible lecture; basic writing can be done; can fill out government, job application and insurance or other forms; one regularly utters sentences in English unintentionally laced with Spanish words; Spanglish becomes more the norma and intelligible; one encounters about 20 new vocabulary words per week; books and newspapers can be read by looking up fewer than 5 words per page; little problem ordering food in restaurants.

Some families think they want to wait a few years before moving abroad, so that their children can mature before taking them to another culture. If that’s your plan, then let me offer you a challenge. There’s no better time in life to learn a new culture and language than when we’re children. Before twelve years of age, the child’s mind can intuitively pick up nuances and accents far better than an adult’s. This is even more pronounced with children immersed at younger ages.

I ran across an example of this recently and wanted to share it with you. Here’s a young American lady who married a Chilean (Chileno). I don’t know how young she was when she started learning Chilean Spanish, but I’d guess under ten years old. Her accent is all but absent. And her use of slang is excellent. In fact, she’s incredibly close to a 10 on the Cobin Scale of Spanish Proficiency.

She talks about the 10 things she loves about Chile: cazuela, ferias, peruvian food, good character of Chileans–“buena onda,” 6 months of post natal time off, carabineros (police), teletón, french bread–marraqueta, asados, natural beauty, and Chile’s many holidays.

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as an American Chilena. If not, this is probably as close as one can get.