When most people study abroad, usually their primary objective is to learn a new language. However, very few are willing to dedicate the time necessary to improve. Whether it’s Spanish, French or even touching up on English, learning a language requires a combination of shrewd attention to detail and an all-out passion for taking your linguistic skills to a new level. Below you find a list of observations that I´ve made since being in Costa Rica.
Disclaimer: These aren´t foolproof rules for learning Spanish. Instead, they are potential guidelines that you can utilize in your studies.
Be Honest- Before arriving in your host country; be honest with yourself about your level linguistic prowess. Most people tend to either overestimate their abilities or underestimate themselves completely. Ask a teacher or a friend what areas you need to work on. Gaining an outside perspective from someone who speaks the language with proficiency can help you point out the areas in which you need more work. You’ll be surprised much time you need to dedicate to pronunciation or mastering the subjunctive.
Focus on “Me Time”- I noticed that American students tend to flock together while they are abroad. This is understandable because being in a new country compels you to want to hang around familiar faces. However, it doesn´t fail to hear someone say, “I´ve been here several months, but still can´t seem to speak Spanish.” Of course not! You´ve had been spending a great part of your time with American students. There comes a point where you have to separate yourself from the crowd. Visit a museum or take a trip to a nearby city on your own where you can try and initiate conversations with natives and pick up a few words or two. At this rate, you can make new friends while boosting confidence at the same time.
Read and Listen- Reading newspapers in Spanish can be really helpful. Doing this repetitively will allow you to build a strong grammatical foundation as well as learn new words. The cool thing is that you can subconsciously absorb a lot of information through reading.
On the other hand, listening is a crucial component to comprehension. In your spare time, watch movies or listen to music. What I failed to realize was that there are so many subtleties that exist in how words are pronounced. I think the best way to surmount this obstacle is to talk with natives individually so that you can hear the various intonations that each person uses in their day-to-day speech. Remember: greater exposure plus practice equals incredible results. But don´t take my word for it, try it yourself and see the difference.
Spanish Classes- I think this is the best piece of advice: take all your classes in Spanish, including your electives. In the classroom is where you will build a solid foundation in the areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Sitting in a classroom for 3-4 hours a day will have a tremendous impact on the development of your linguistic skills.
Be Patient- This is the hardest rule for me. Some days it will feel like you can speak the language with no problems, and others were you can barely squeeze out a word. Teachers and past students have told me that this oscillation between good and bad speaking days is a result of your brain trying to adapt itself to a new environment. I find that my mind constantly switches between Spanish and English. On days when I want to speak English, Spanish pops out. On days when I want to speak Spanish, English words somehow find themselves in the conversation. If you run into this wall, don´t be deterred. It is just a normal part of the process. In other words, don´t expect to be perfect. Instead, take the time to laugh at the frequent “brainfarts” you will frequently along your journey.
Again, these rules aren´t set in stone. At the end of the day, you will find that there are many techniques and neat tricks you can apply that will contribute to your success. Always remember to do what is best for your learning style. And most importantly, have fun with it.
Written by Chris Johnson, Social Media Journalist