I have a real love-hate relationship with languages in general. To me, learning a new language is both one of the most enriching and disheartening experiences ever. I speak out of experience when I say that the highs and the lows of learning languages are nothing short of a roller coaster. However, I must admit that nothing tops the feeling of contentment – and smugness (!) - you get when you manage to have a decent conversation with a stranger in a foreign language without stumbling on each word, every 2 seconds.
For those of you not familiar with my back story, I moved to Spain in May – so about 4 months ago – and I am currently in what I like to call the “painful” stage of learning. Let me tell you why. Having never really studied Spanish before, apart for a semester at university – my level is very basic. Having said that, in the past month, I feel like my listening and speaking have both improved a lot. I would love to say that it happened overnight, but sadly language learning takes a lot of intention and determination. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that it has to be boring and that you should lock yourself in intensive Spanish courses all day - quite the opposite actually.
I know many people can get put off by the idea of moving to a country where they don’t speak the language but if you think about it, there is no better way to pick up the language. It’s obvious that not everyday will be easy, but in the end when you look back at yourself a year from now and you are having this casual conversation in your all time favourite language, it will make it all worthwhile. Here are some of the fun ways I am currently learning Spanish, which have helped me a lot to improve and feel more confident.
1. Working in a Spanish company
This is something I would recommend to anyone planning to move to a new country. Whilst being a freelancer has a lot of perks, I think there’s no better way to learn a language than being surrounded by native speakers. Even though, most of the time, I have not been able to engage in coherent conversations, hearing people speaking Spanish all day really helps. I have picked up a lot of new words and expressions that way. Plus, you also get to socialize with them and it puts you in the perfect environment to learn and progress is a non-stressful way. Your colleagues will ultimately become the best teachers you could ever have.
2. Doing language exchange (Intercambio)
I was initially a bit skeptical about this approach. I thought it would be super awkward to go out for a drink with a stranger and speak in different languages. But, if you are lucky enough to find a nice person you get on well with, this will become rather enjoyable. It’s an opportunity to meet someone new, talk about casual things but also improve your language skills along the way because the other person will correct you, and you will learn so much just from listening to them speak. In my case, I happened to meet my language buddy through mutual connections, but if you live in Barcelona, I would recommend going to The Friday Language Exchange in Estacio de Franca. It’s free, it runs every Friday, and there you can meet people who want to learn/sharpen their language skills just like you!
3. Watching TV/movies only in Spanish
This one is a non-brainer, but it can really help with your listening and comprehension. Since I have moved to Spain I have seen 3 movies in the cinema and every time I go, I feel like I understand more and more. Here are the movies I have seen, in case you want to check them out:
- Mission Impossible (Tom Cruise’s voice in Spanish is quite something)
- Todos Lo Saben (This one was my favourite and relatively easy to understand)
4. Reading Children’s books
Children’s books have always been my guilty pleasure, and even when I was learning English they really helped me improved both my vocabulary, and grammar. They tend to use relatively easy structure which really helps with your understanding – plus it’s fun! I mean, who in their right mind doesn’t want to read sleeping beauty in Spanish, right? I am currently reading a book called Cuentos de buenas noche para ninas rebeldes 2, which tells the stories of some of the greatest women of all time, going from Beyonce to Marie Curie. I definetely recommend it!
5. Listen to random people’s conversation on your commute
Last but not least, I find that eavesdropping on strangers is a fun (and a bit weird, I know) way to improve your listening. I mean, if you can understand total strangers’ conversation, you are half way there!
Disclaimers: This is not to say that you won’t need to take Spanish classes, as I do think it’s important too, especially for the grammar, but if you also apply some of the above, I truly believe it can speed up the learning process!