I have been learning Spanish ever since I can remember. It was taught in my elementary school, and I took it for four years in high school. Entering college, I decided to be a Spanish minor, knowing that eventually I would come back to Barcelona, Spain.
While I can understand Spanish perfectly, I have always had trouble forming my thoughts into Spanish sentences. In my head, it’s: “How would I say this in English?” rather than “How do I say this in Spanish?”. Initially, coming here, I thought it would be easy getting through my Spanish courses, but it has proven to be a bit tough.
In my first month in Barcelona, I believe I have spoken more Spanish than I have in my entire college career. The Spanish courses offered at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona focus on conversations, rather than learning words that describe the environment, food or schools. My professor here, Alfonso, teaches us colloquial things native to Barcelona, such as how to order or what to say to a worker at a supermercat. When I first arrived, I was saying “Puedo tener un cafe con leche?” (Can I have a coffee with milk?), but I have since learned that the correct way to order is “Me pone un cafe con leche” (Bring me a coffee with milk). While this seems like a minor change in phrasing, it makes a difference to those you are ordering from. You seem more like a native, rather than a foreigner, which is how I would like to be perceived while I am here.
I currently take Spanish class for three hours and twenty minutes a day, twice a week. It is quite a long morning, but my class only has four students in it, which means the entire time we are talking and having conversations. Whether it is about our weekends or our plans after class, English is rarely spoken, and it is refreshing from my 20-person classes in the United States, where I could barely ask a question. It is not a lecture-type class like my classes back in the United States, and being in the class for so long forces me to get out of my English brain and into my Spanish one. Having conversations and speaking the language is the best way to learn, and I am so excited for when I get back to the United States and can show my previous professors how much I have improved in my speaking abilities.
One of the biggest difficulties I have had in my Spanish class here is that my professor is not fluent in English. Many times, we have to help him find the exact translation of a Spanish word to an English one. For example, in class, he was describing some of the students he has in graduate school. He described them as “pijo” which translates to “preppy” in English, but that is not a word he has heard before. It is quite entertaining because as he is teaching us how to speak Spanish, we are also helping him learn some English.
Another time I find myself speaking Spanish is in taxi cabs! I ride them quite often here, and most of the time, the driver knows both Spanish and English, but every time they speak English I stop them and say “No! Solo Español por favor” or “No, only Spanish please!”. Talking to locals here in Barcelona has proved very beneficial, as they speak very fast and it is helpful to hear the natural voice and flow of words of a native speaker.
Spanish is a beautiful language, and I recommend to anyone coming to Barcelona to try a Spanish class. Whether you are a beginner or advanced, I guarantee you will learn something new and benefit greatly from your class. I still have two and a half months left of my Spanish course, and hope by the end of it I can call myself fluent.