By Christine Medina
My naïve, 22-year-old self thought simply being immersed in Spain would make me fluent in the language in a matter of months. This is the same 22-year old who came to Spain completely unprepared in terms of Spanish language skills–yup—I was the one who knew a few colors, how to count to ten and say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. Learning Spanish was going to be a long road for me!
After a bleary nine-hour plane ride to London, then another 2.5 hours to Málaga, I arrived in the airport sleep-deprived, nervous and enveloped in the Spanish language. My head was spinning! Making my way to baggage claim, as luck would have it, my bags weren’t there. I had my first crisis in Spain. So, I mustered up an embarrassing “No hablo Español” and pointed out the empty bag carousal to the nearest airport official, and he grumpily pointed me toward the right place.
Though my bag and I were shortly reunited, it quickly dawned on me that I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into by deciding to come to Spain. After all, only someone crazy would move to a country without knowing the language, right? But, I’ve come a long way. For someone who didn’t major or minor in the language like most of the young people who come to Spain, I’d say I’ve come leaps and bounds from that first touchdown in Málaga.
Here’s what I did to learn the language of Cervantes, and what I recommend for you:
Take classes before coming to Spain! (duh)
I did take a class or two of Spanish in high school and college, but did I remember anything I learned aside from above-mentioned kindergarten speak? Nope! I’d brush up on your Español before hopping the pond so you feel more confident in your abilities once you’re here. Check out a local community college or a language academy. Sites like Groupon and Living Social sometimes offer steep discounts on language classes, too.
Once in Spain, arrange different intercambios
Intercambios, or language exchanges, helped me step up my level of Spanish greatly. It was like learning to swim, I could either drown and give up, or struggle to stay above water, (which is what I definitely did) until month after month I was finally floating (with a life jacket).
Post up flyers around town or put up a message on tusclasesparticulares.com and the offers will come in. Spaniards in general are very interested in learning English, especially with a native speaker.
Study on your own, and stick to a study schedule
I use Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses by Dorothy Richmond and 501 Spanish Verbs because I still slip up on grammar. I try to make a point to sit down and study daily during the AM, but it does take a lot of discipline. But nothing worth it comes easily now, does it?
Study while you wait
I find myself waiting a lot in Spain: for the bus, on the bus, walking to and from work, etc. Though listening to music is tempting, I always try to fit in a podcast or two from Coffee Break Spanish, free to download from iTunes. If Coffee Break Spanish isn’t your thing, there are tons of Spanish language podcasts available.
Learn Spanish doing something fun
I love going to the movies, and one way I work on my listening skills is by watching films in Spanish. I especially enjoy watching Spanish films, since they’re original and not dubbed. This goes for the TV in my house, too—always in Spanish.
So if you enjoy yoga, sign up for a class in Spain. Cooking more your thing? Join a cooking class. Same goes for any hobby really—and it makes language learning all the more enjoyable.
Have you studied Spanish or some other language? Tell us your tips in the comments section below.