This blog entry was submitted by Jennifer Slavik, who studied abroad in Madrid, Spain.
“When I first arrived in Spain, I thought that I knew some Spanish. All my friends at home know Spanish, my family knows Spanish, so I thought, I probably know Spanish, too. I came to the hard realization, within weeks of my arrival that I, in fact, truly knew nothing. The vocabulary that I did know went over my head because of the new accent in Spain and I stumbled on basic sentences because of my insecurity as being labeled as an outsider.
Because of this reason, I was very stressed within the first month of my arrival. I lived with a host mom who only spoke Spanish and three other English-speaking roommates. We had dinner every night and would speak for about half an hour afterward. However, during this period of doubt, I stopped speaking at the dinner table. My Spanish was relatively the best out of the other students, but the stress involved in attempting to construct a sentence without the proper vocabulary was too heart-breaking. On top of this, I had three classes in Spanish: a literature, philosophy and language class. So, this was an obstacle I couldn’t ignore.
When my stress eventually leveled off, I decided I would devote all my free time to practicing the language—starting with the basics again. And I did. I read books in Spanish, I watched YouTube lectures and I paid attention on the street picking up the slang.
After being fairly diligent, I started to notice an improvement. When I went out to bars, I would meet other international students as well as locals, and I spoke quickly and confidentially.
Actually, what I had found tremendously helpful was having the opportunity to speak with other students who were around the same level as me. I had previously been practicing exclusively with family and friends back home who are fluent; however, conversing with other students keeps the conversation interesting for both parties and it ends up more cohesive.
Ultimately, that ended up being my favorite experience: sharing conversations in Spanish with other students. I made friends from France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia and other places all thanks to an enthusiasm for learning a new language.”