Learning languages is fun, but learning a language in it’s home country is even better. Jamie from Crashed Culture talks about immersing herself in Spanish culture to learn the Spanish language while teaching English there.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had the wildest dreams of traveling the world, learning all these languages, and experiencing new cultures. That might have a little to do with the fact that I grew up in a small town where nothing ever happens, and my best opportunity to do any of those things were the Spanish classes I took in high school. And we’ve all taken those – you don’t learn anything practical, and, y’know, it’s high school, so it’s awful!
Still, I had my dreams. I tried over and over again to learn Spanish, always starting out with the motivation that I was going to live my best life, but this kind of stuff takes commitment. It’s hard! And, as a kid, I was lazy, I’ll be honest. So I ended up in a horrible cycle of feeling upset that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, but also being too lazy to commit.
I always had the excuse that I was too busy avoiding actual schoolwork and going to school to truly commit like I wanted to. So, when the day came where I had finished school and had the entire world ahead of me, I took the jump. I was going to travel, and I was going to do it well. A couple of months after graduation, I moved abroad to Spain to teach English for a year.
Now, I wish I could say that I got to Spain, finally got motivated, and was perfectly fluent by the time I left. That’s a great inspirational story that makes all of this seem so reachable. I wish these things were that easy. But they’re not.
I moved to Spain on September 1st. By the time Christmas came around and I was making my plans to come home for a couple of weeks, I realized I hadn’t done diddly squat with my Spanish. In fact, I was so avoidant of the commitment that I had made that I would go to work, come home around 3:00, and just…do nothing. I couldn’t honestly remember how I had spent the past couple months while living in Europe. That hit me hard. I had spent three months, what, scrolling Facebook?! I needed to do better than that.
Committing to the process
So, I went back home for Christmas as planned. But, as I got back on the plane to go back to Spain, I was formulating a plan. I was going to do it. Like, really do it. I was scared, yeah. But I was living in Spain! I couldn’t let myself spend a year in Europe just sitting in my underwear on the internet!
When I landed in Spain, the first thing I did was go to a Spanish language school in Madrid and sign up for classes. I committed myself to 4 classes a week, 2 hours each. On top of that, I signed up for a few websites that connect language learners with each other, so I could find a Madrileño trying to learn English and commit to some real-world practice.
And that’s what I did. Some days I got sick, some days I got tired, and some days my plans got cancelled. But whenever I was able, I got off my butt and found some way to practice. I pushed myself as hard as I could go, because the opportunity to immerse yourself in a language just doesn’t come every day. I ignored my fear and fatigue and tried to push as much Spanish into my brain as I could.
Sometimes it was easier than others, sometimes it was harder. Sometimes I would meet a new Madrileño who wasn’t as confident with their English, so I spent most of our meeting speaking in Spanish, and sometimes my brain decided it wasn’t going to work, and I got so flustered I wanted to cry.
But that’s the thing with commitment: you don’t just fulfill it when you’re excited and motivated, you keep pushing through the tough days, knowing that the pain and the struggle is only temporary. Learning new things isn’t always easy, and the more often you push yourself past your obstacles, the easier it will get.
So did I ever accomplish my dream? Well, one thing that I learned during this whole process is to be as specific as possible with your goals. My goal was to be fluent in Spanish. Was I fluent? I honestly couldn’t tell you. My friends told me I was, but I still didn’t feel as comfortable in the language as I wanted to be. I did spend my last month abroad traveling alone in almost only Spanish, but do I consider myself fluent? I don’t know – it turns out, the term “fluent” doesn’t have a very concrete definition!
Because I still wasn’t completely satisfied by my level of Spanish, I decided to keep working. Maybe I don’t live in a Spanish-speaking country anymore, but that’s no excuse if you really want to do it. We’re fortunate enough to have the internet, which provides an almost unlimited number of opportunities for us to accomplish the things we really want in life.
For example, I started an accountability group on Facebook for those who need a little reminder to practice their Spanish every day, if even just for a couple of minutes. It’s not about how well you do when you’re doing well, it’s about whether you can push past the hard days.
Author: Jamie from Becoming Bilingual
Jamie is a twenty-something currently based in Florida. Her dream is to travel the world and achieve a multilingual life, and that’s exactly what she’s working for little by little, day by day. Today’s goal is to pass the C2 DELE exam and be officially recognized as bilingual. Tomorrow’s goal? Pick another language! Catch up with Jamie at CrashedCulture. or follow her on Twitter at @CrashedCulture
So Jamie accomplished her dreams of becoming fluent in Spanish by immersing herself in the culture. Have you done something similar? Are you planning on something similar? Comment and let us know.