The winding roads of Sevilla I take to school each day are filled with little shops, restaurants and bakeries. These local stores provide a real taste of Spanish life and are always bursting with regular customers who return to them daily for a loaf of bread or a cup of coffee. Since moving into my apartment I have made one shop a regular stop: la fruteria.
This small fruit stand is run by an adorable older couple and is always filled with customers or people who just want to stop and chat. The fruit is delicious, you can’t beat the prices, and I always have the urge to shop local. However, the main reason I love going to the fruit stand might seem strange. I stop by daily because the owners don’t speak any English. Actually, they speak quick, almost abbreviated Spanish. I think that every time I speak with them I pick up on a new phrase or way to say a word that I had never heard previously. This exposure to “Sevilla” Spanish is exactly what I need. I also don’t mind that the owner calls me guapa (pretty) and occasionally gives me free strawberries.
After thinking about my day-to-day life in Spain, I realized that there are many simple ways to become more comfortable while learning a language abroad:
1. Participate in an intercambio
As an American student abroad, it is very easy to spend a majority of your time with other Americans. As far as learning another language goes, this is bad. You have to leave your comfort zone in order to learn another language. Many programs, like ISA, help students set up intercambios with local, native Spanish speakers who want to improve their English. This is a great way to practice your Spanish and learn more about the culture. My intercambio has also given me tips on the nightlife in Sevilla and some of the best places to grab a bite to eat. Other than the intercambio that ISA introduced me to, I have met a few other locals who have excitedly asked me to participate in an intercambio with them as well. My friends and I have all had great experiences with intercambios and it has really enhanced my time in Sevilla.
Walking down the street and hearing only a foreign language is intimidating. At first, I tried to just focus on getting from point A to point B without getting in anyone’s way. I soon realized that was silly because I came here to immerse myself in the culture and the language. Now whenever I walk somewhere I try and do some major eavesdropping. This is a great way to pick up new phrases or words. It also feels very rewarding when I listen to a conversation and can understand what is being said.
3. Talk, talk & talk some more
Learning another language isn’t just memorization and grammar rules. It takes practice. The only way to really engage in a culture and get the hang of the language is to talk, a lot. I knew I would feel a little overwhelmed when I chose to study in a country where English was not the primary language, but practicing my Spanish is a big part of the experience. I’ve learned that the easiest way to practice is by talking to anyone and everyone. This means going out of my way to ask questions in stores, comment in class and talk to any locals around Sevilla when I’m out and about. This doesn’t always feel natural to me but I have met some great people and learned even more about the language by trying to spring out of my comfort zone as often as possible.
Studying Spanish in Spain has been a challenging but rewarding experience. After recently traveling to France and Portugal, both with native languages I know virtually nothing about, I came to appreciate my Spanish-speaking capabilities even more. I highly encourage anyone thinking about studying abroad to pick a country that speaks a different language and dive right in.
Whenever I get home from a long weekend in another country, my first stop is the fruteria. And each time, I breathe a sigh of relief when I hear a language I can understand.
“¡Buenas guapa!, ¿Qué te gustaría?” Music to my ears.