I was in my second year of Spanish when I proudly declared: “Mi ciudad es muy famoso para su sopa de polla”. The face of my teacher went bright red as she, a little embarrassed, explained me that the Spanish word for chicken is “pollo”, “polla” apparently means “penis”…I spent the rest of the evening trying to convince my fellow students that my city wasn’t producing any phallic-shaped soup whatsoever. It was also at this very moment that I realized that, if I wanted to learn Spanish properly, I’d have to go and learn it in Spain! I’d have to go for a full Spanish language immersion!
Interested in getting the most out of learning a language abroad? Here are a few tips:
1/ Choose a city with few students
In Spain, the city of Salamanca is THE place to learn Spanish. It’s home to a large number of language schools and the area is known to speak the “purest” form of Spanish. The problem with that is that, with a high number of foreign students, you’re more likely to hear, see and speak English rather than Spanish!
I chose the historical city of Cádiz because it’s not overrun by tourists, (most visitors are Spanish people from other regions in Spain) there are only 2 language schools and the gaditano accent is one of the toughest in the whole of Spain! I figured that, if I managed to understand the locals, I’d manage to understand everyone else in the country!
Oh and Cádiz has a beach, which might have slightly influenced my decision…
2/ Go for total immersion
Don’t limit yourself to the classes! Yes, you’ll learn the basics, but the real work starts afterwards. If you want to learn a language, you need to get out there and practise, it’s as simple as that!
I probably annoyed the hell out of the waiters in tapas bars trying out my new vocabulary. I went to see a local football game, watched Spanish soap opera’s and spent hours on the beach reading gossip magazines about celebrities I’d never heard of. Hell, I even had a go at flamenco dancing!
The real Spanish is taught out on the street, not within the 4 walls of the classroom!
3/ Take time
Unless you’re a genius, it’s very unlikely that you’ll learn a language in one week. So if you’re an absolute beginner, going on a language study for one week doesn’t really make sense; by the time you are able to grasp a few words, it’ll be time to go home… I already had some basic knowledge of Spanish when I started off and still decided to stay one month. It gave me time to adjust, time to practise and time to get to know the place. The longer you have, the better, it’ll make the whole experience much more worthwhile!
4/ Meet up with locals
Of course you’ll mostly hang out with your fellow students, there’s nothing wrong with that, but remember what you are there for! I went on a second language immersion in Madrid and I was the only student in the whole school between Christmas and New Year! If I wanted some kind of social contact, it would have to come from the locals! I enrolled in a few Meetup groups and got in contact with Chilean, Spanish and Argentinian people, all living in Madrid. We met up for a drink and some of us ended up spending New Year’s Eve together! Great fun and the best practice!!
5/ Don’t stop learning when you’re back home
You need to keep up your language skills, if not all your efforts will have been in vain. Back home, I continued watching Spanish movies, I listened to Spanish radio stations on the internet and practised with Spanish speakers whenever possible.
Looking back, going to Spain for a month was one of the best decisions ever! Not only do I know the difference between “pollo” and “polla” now, but it has convinced me that the only way to learn a language properly is to do it where the language is spoken!
Did you ever consider learning a language abroad? Which one would it be?