Musings Abroad-My Life in Spain: Learning a Second Language

Small notebooks are often inexpensive and are good for keeping lists of new words. (Photo credit: Anna Groeling).
Small notebooks are often inexpensive and are good for keeping lists of new words. (Photo credit: Anna Groeling).
Small notebooks are often inexpensive and are good for keeping lists of new words. (Photo credit: Anna Groeling).

Learning a new language requires motivation, many mistakes, repetition and energy.

The region where I live, Andalucía, has a very strong accent. Spanish words that I have known since elementary school became foreign to me until I was able to understand the patterns of speech. At the beginning it took more energy to understand conversations. After several weeks of consistent exposure to Spanish, my energy shifted as I instead tried to express my thoughts more clearly rather than struggling to comprehend the conversation.

My Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds since I arrived. The following are some points that have helped me
become more immersed in a second language:

1. Be Intentional When Conversing

This point would seem obvious, but it’s important. It can be easy to just speak in your native tongue outside the classroom, rather than learning your second language.

When first learning another language, reading children's books can be beneficial. Bilingual texts are also available for longer and more complicated books.
When first learning another language, reading children’s books can be beneficial. Bilingual texts are also available for longer and more complicated books.

You need to be intentional in practicing as much as possible, even if you’re with others that aren’t. Some locals may want to practice their English after learning you’re a foreigner. When I do a language exchange, I’ll speak in Spanish while my conversation partner will respond in English. Sometimes we’ll both talk in Spanish for 30 minutes, then talk in English for another 30 before switching back. Towards the end of our time, we’ll mix the two languages.

This helps me transition between the two languages easier and the breaks in English gives me time to “reset” before picking up Spanish again. Since I live with a family that doesn’t speak English, I’m able to practice Spanish more than usual.

2. Talk to the Locals

Talking with locals can be a huge motivation factor. Not only can you learn colloquial phrases and cultural aspects, but you’re also making new friends in the process. Useful words will be mentioned in conversation that I’ll end up using fairly often.

Talking with a local can also create stronger associations and contexts to better remember the words. Some foreign language teachers tell their students to draw pictures next to their new vocabulary so that they can make these associations.

And for some additional bonus points, if you want to find a good restaurant or cultural activity, chances are the locals will be the ones with the best recommendations. However, to meet some locals you need to make an effort on doing so. Language exchange meetings make it easier to meet people since everyone is there for the same purpose: to learn another language and meet new people.

  1. Pocket Dictionary & Notebook

If I’m out with a Spaniard I’ll jot down new words in my phone’s notes, then later add it to a small notebook. The notebook makes it easier for me to study the words. If you don’t want to carry around another book, use the online dictionary WordReference. However, with a physical dictionary you can work through the pages and choose  4 or 5 new words to study every day. After doing this for even a week, the words you’ve been studying start to add up.

4. Newspapers and Television

Both mediums are good resources for learning a new language, although conversation and practice will be the best method. I’ve found that reading news articles in Spanish has helped me more than watching Spanish programs. El País, El Mundo and Granada Hoy are some Spanish newspapers that I follow.

5. Make the Mistakes

Sometimes when I’m talking with a Spaniard, I’ll ask them to correct my Spanish when we’re conversing. Most people will understand the mistakes and are just happy that you’re making the effort to learn their native language and culture. You’ll only learn from your mistakes and in the end, you’ll better understand the language because of them.


  1. Your article provided some great practical tips that are clear and easy to follow if you are trying to learn a new language abroad. All of the steps were well defined with subtitles that broke up the content into digestible bits that flowed smoothly. I thought you provided great tips such as interacting more with locals, learning from television and media sources, and allowing locals to correct your speech. The featured image was great quality and got me interested in the story and what you had to say. The pictures within the article could have been larger.

  2. This is an amazing article. I love how the author used subheads to break up her different points about learning a language. I also love the author’s honesty and candidness about the subject. You can tell they have real experience learning another language and these topics helped them really learn Spanish. I particularly loved the section about being serious about conversations. It’s so easy to revert back to what you already know, but this shows that your heart has to be in it if you’re truly interested in learning a foreign language. I like how they described conversing in English and Spanish by replying to comments made by the Spanish speaker in Spanish. This is very helpful in my language pursuits.

  3. This article gave very good points on how to wrap your mind around a second language. If this information was accessible when I was attempting to learn Spanish, I probably would have had an easier time. Definitely a beneficial article.

  4. The author brought up really interesting points about learning another language and living in a different culture. I especially appreciated how they brought up the important of owning your mistakes. It’s important to learn from experience.

  5. The subheadings were very useful in this article. It is very cool how you were serious about conversations because that is the only way you’re really going to learn a new language, especially not to revert back to what you know. It shows commitment.This is helpful for those who want to learn a new language.

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