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The Art of Immersion: Learning Spanish in Spain

Us adventure-minded folk have all thought about it, dreamt about it, and considered it when we finally came to a point where a move abroad became a real possibility. We sometimes hear it’s unrealistic, convince ourselves it’s unrealistic, and then wake up one day with the realization that we’ve come to learn a language in an organic way. That language, the one we had very minimal knowledge of before moving abroad? The language that confused us ever so slightly when we first made that move abroad? Oh yeah, that language – the one people said you would improve on a bit, but took you by surprise when you came to the conclusion that you went from being able to ask simple things to being able to have full conversations in said language.

Before coming to Spain, I had taken a semester or two of Spanish in school (several years ago). We barely learned the basics, had class once or twice a week for a few weeks, and that was it. I had visited Spain while in my second and last semester of Spanish, but my ability to speak was minimal. I had always thought it was easy to read and write, which it was, but to actually be able to converse with locals – particularly when the accent you learn is from a completely different continent – was much more challenging.

Fast forward a few years later, and here I am now. I came around this time with even less practice than the time before, as it had been at least 2-3 years since I had read anything in Spanish. Being from Canada, and specifically being from my local francophone-heavy neighbourhood meant that I used French and English on a daily basis, but Spanish? Never.

In September, I knew I could ask for a few things. It started off slowly, and it felt extremely amazing to be able to do something as minor as order something in Spanish with no problems. For some reason, the Madrid accent threw me off even more – the lisp, the intonation, all of it was different from what I had been taught. It took me a couple of months to be able to learn how to converse well, and as time went on, my knowledge improved drastically. The funny part? I never even noticed how much better my Spanish had become while it was on the rise. It was as if it was completely natural, and all done without any further studying from a book.

Simply being in an environment of constant interaction with a language I’ve had very minimal formal education in has done me wonders. People usually do say that such exposure is the best way to learn a language, but I never thought it could be true. Even better? Madrid is a place with a lot of English (language) students, meaning locals are more than happy to do language exchanges with you. This, for me, has been the best way to improve my Spanish. Having locals explain little linguistic rules to me has made them stick with me more than anything else has, and thanks to my move, having Spanish roommates has meant this has been even more constant.

Now, that’s not to say my Spanish is perfect just yet, but there’s something incredible about being able to speak, read, and write a language so well when you’ve barely studied it and have been exposed to it for only a few months. There’s something inspiring about knowing that this is something to take away from such a crazy experience, and that it wouldn’t have been possible without it. Better still is the beauty of dreaming in nothing but Spanish.

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