Although I have been studying Spanish in school for four years, learning a language in a different country is completely different. One major difference is that in the U.S. my teachers are fluent in both English and Spanish, which makes translating vocabulary words very easy. However, in Spain, most of the teachers did not have that large of an English vocabulary.
Due to that, you were forced to be creative and speak in Spanish while trying to explain what you mean, which is excellent practice. The biggest challenge of learning Spanish in Spain was forcing myself to use it as much as possible. Obviously, the more you attempt to speak it the better you will get. I reminded myself this when speaking with new people or even my host mom’s nieces, who were fluent in English as well as Spanish.
The biggest reward of learning Spanish abroad was seeing the improvement in my ability to speak and understand the language. One of my favorite moments from the trip is when I was having a conversation with my friend in English, but then I immediately answered a question in Spanish instead, without thinking about it. That was extremely encouraging for me, and pushed me to try even harder during class.
The most common, and also my favorite phrase in Spain, is “vale”. It means like “okay” or “yes” in English, except it’s much more fun to say and comes off less abrupt. Generally, people in Spain say it multiple times in a row, just like saying “yeah yeah yeah”.
One unusual tip I have for people traveling abroad to learn a new language is always be trying to figure out grammatically correct answers to questions you hear, even if they are not directed towards you. For example, during dinner with my host family, questions would be asked to every student. Instead of only trying to answer the ones for me, I would practice in my head trying to answer the ones other people were getting also. This is great review for vocabulary also, depending on the topic.
Overall, I recommend trying to speak, listen to, and think about, as much Spanish as possible. Whether that is watching a movie in Spanish, or having a conversation, it’s all beneficial and rewarding in the end.
Clara Bekeny is 15 years old and lives in San Francisco, California. Her goal during her language program in Salamanca, Spain is to “to broaden my understanding of the Spanish culture and to make new friends during my trip to Salamanca. Additionally, I hope to improve my Spanish language skills.” Follow Clara’s adventure in Spain on her weekly blog post updates.