English, the global language of business, is spoken frequently as a second language throughout the world. Many of the students in your study abroad program are fellow Americans, and it seems easy to just let English-speakers adapt to you.
Learning a second language is quickly becoming one of the most crucial skills to have, both in job markets and in everyday life. The United States is one of the few countries that does not prioritize this in schools. So if you want to spice up your resume, increase your communication skills, or become more fully immersed in your new country, here are some tips and tricks.
- Speak Spanish everywhere. This includes restaurants, shops, train stations, airports, etc. Don’t ask or expect people to speak English to accommodate you. After all, you are in their country. Don’t rely on friends who may be further ahead than you. Don’t be nervous! Most people will be thrilled that you’re making an effort.
- Choose a smaller city, such as Valencia or Seville, rather than Madrid or Barcelona. Although the bigger cities are fantastic places to visit, they are so touristy that it’s almost hard to practice Spanish as everyone will volunteer English to you immediately.
- Live with a host family. It sounds scary, and I went back and forth about it a lot before making this decision. My experience was wonderful. I lived with two parents who were both teachers and their five wonderful children. They are truly my family now. They are amazing cooks and even better people. And if you truly want to commit to learning a new language, living with a host family is vital. I speak most of my Spanish here in the house, where I learn more than I ever could just by ordering food at a restaurant.
Overall, speaking Spanish and not being afraid to make mistakes is the only way to improve. I think the most helpful method of learning Spanish for me came naturally, because everything I learned was naturally committed to memory in irreplaceable, meaningful interactions I will cherish forever. Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples:
Escoba = broom: My youngest host brother and I watched Harry Potter together.
Campaña = campaign: A group of older women I spoke with for 4 hours on a train to Barcelona taught me this word when they told me I should be the first female president of the U.S.A! They asked if they could come visit me in the White House. They later bought coffee for my friends and I.
Próxima parada = next stop: From many, many, many, many, many times riding the metro around the city
Alquilar = to rent: Renting a car to drive to Montanejos hot springs with by best friends.
Blanda = soft: My host sister loves “soft American cookies” since the cookies in Spain are usually hard and crunchy. So of course, I had to send her some.
Zumo = juice: Valencia has the most amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Perroflauta = the dreadlocked hippy stereotype: During our nightly conversations with our host family over dinner, we had many deep conversations, one about stereotypes included, but this particular one was a source of many laughs.
Is learning a second language difficult? Yes, of course. But precious memories like these have made it well worth the struggle and have left me with a valuable skill I can use forever.
Julia Barclay is a student at the University of Louisville and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Valencia, Spain.