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.
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.
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.