One day we decided to do an 'English' theme...We hadn't really realized how much we see the English language on signs until we started to look for them. Our brains usually go for the Spanish now.
We entertained ourselves by translating the English to Spanish (instead of the other way around.) Fun Spanish lesson for us, for the day.
Shoes = Zapatos
A little familiar French/English.
Kids = Ninos (boys) and Ninas (girls)
Scotch whiskey is here, too. Taxi is the name of the liquor store near la Cuadra apts, but there are other locations, too. (We had to look up the Spanish when we got home...and 'scotch' = escoces. "Whiskey' is pronouced the same in Spanish, but spelled 'whisky'.)
Some areas in the USA have a Spanish/Latin American influence. If you're coming from those areas along the border of Mexico or even California, Chicago or New York, you actually 'know' more Spanish than you think! US areas with a large Spanish speaking population will have more Spanish words and signs. There is no good substitution to actually speaking and understanding Spanish, but you can see you won't be totally lost and confused if your Spanish is limited at first.
We still pack a Spanish/English dictionary, and you should, too.
One more interesting point (and to answer a couple questions we've received off-blog): Not all Spanish is the same! A friend of ours who learned Spanish in Texas, did well with his Spanish here in Cuenca, but doesn't do so good with his Spanish in Spain. Accents, words and grammer rules can be different in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Here, there are some slang and words borrowed from Quichua, another language in the Andes (like wawa for baby). Spanish on the coast tends to be spoken faster and parts of words are dropped... Cuenca Spanish is spoken more slowly and can be easier to understand. That's probably why the Spanish schools are so popular here.
In the beginning, we think Spanish is Spanish, and we'll learn the different versions later as we might need them.
A good starting point is to start with the Spanish you need...taxi Spanish, shopping Spanish, restaurant Spanish. Some websites for children will give you the basics, too, like colors, days of the week/months, numbers, etc.
So, keep studying, keep practicing and it'll eventually sink in...our old brains are 'getting it', and yours will, too.