When I left for Spain to begin my semester abroad, I was so excited to do some travelling, watch some Spanish soccer, and try some good tapas. But most of all I was excited to be in a country where I could use my Spanish I had been practicing since junior high!
Unfortunately, once there I found my conversations with locals were quickly rerouted into English after any sign of hiccup or hesitation in my fluency. After years of studying and practice I was ready to fully dive in to talking with and hanging out with local Spanish classmates and friends. However, I quickly learned classroom fluency and conversational fluency are two totally different things.
Crushed by my slow integration into groups of local friends, I promised myself I would improve to a level at which I could keep up with group conversations and discussions. Newly motivated, I joined a few extracurriculars the university offered that surrounded me with constant conversational Spanish. First, I tried out for and eventually joined the University’s soccer team. As the only American on the team, I was often lost in training, and struggled to understand their terminology the field. Slowly I began to understand and pair their dialogue with the situation on the field and what they wanted, which helped me develop my vocabulary. Long car rides to away games, discussing tactics, and getting yelled at on the field all helped me develop my conversational fluency while enjoying a fun and inclusive experience during my semester abroad.
On a smaller scale, I practiced Spanish in every opportunity I could find or create. On the metro to and from class I would listen to podcasts in Spanish. I made deals with Spanish friends to practice 30 minutes of Spanish in exchange for a coffee over lunch. I would even try to make conversation with waiters and bar tenders at cafes. The doorman at my apartment became one of my good friends after talking with him every time I returned to our building. Its important to keep an open mind as to with whom you can improve your language and experience while abroad!
It is inevitable in learning a new language that you will go through difficult and often awkward situations. There will be times in which you are talking and can’t think of the correct translation, or worse, when the translation comes out wrong. But this is the small price to pay everyone goes through while learning a new language.
After returning from my semester abroad, I have found ways to stay in practice with my fluency. I listen to music, watch movies, and follow social media pages all in Spanish. Blessed as we are living in this wonderfully diverse country, I converse with people who speak Spanish almost every day. Lastly, I stay in touch with the friends I’ve made during my experiences throughout Latin America in hopes of staying connected with them and even visiting them again someday. Learning a new language is not a one-time thing, but a continuous process that requires dedication, adaptability, and a willingness to jump into difficult situations in efforts to develop and maintain a level at which you hope to attain and use throughout your international adventures.