When living in a country where the native language is not your first language, you’re pretty much forced to learn the language. Before I came abroad, I knew I wanted to improve my Spanish (after all, my last name is Rodriguez) and that is one of the many reasons why I chose to study in Madrid. The capital of Spain is a very culturally immersed city where few people speak English. Learning a new language is not easy, and I knew that before I came abroad. But, it’s a part of the experience that comes with studying abroad.
The constant mispronunciation, embarrassment, stuttering, or having the “accent”, all of that comes with feeling like such an American when learning a new language. ITS A STRUGGLE. But, its a part of the experience of learning a different language. With feeling like such an American, comes with a lot of awkwardness. My landlord recently had a guy from the gas company come to make sure things are working properly and just my luck, the guy spoke no English AND had a lisp. Probably spent a good ten minutes just translating everything to figure out what he was saying. All was good, I survived but the language barrier sucks sometimes.
2. THE LOOK.
If you aren’t fluent in Spanish, you have definitely has gotten “the look” at least 17,000 times. “The look” is a facial expression you receive from a Spaniard where it just occurred to them that you did not understand a word they just said. “The look” also applies when you ask a question in Spanish, and receive a fast paced complicated answer, but have no idea what you just heard and you reply with “si” and the Spaniard looks at you like “that was not the answer I was expecting nor does it apply to the context of the question I just asked you”. Yep.
3. Pronunciation is key.
Fresa=strawberry. Fresca=bitch. <–Don’t make that mistake. It’s the little things that you need to be aware of. With learning a new language, you really have to TRY and learn how to properly pronounce all the words correctly. Luckily for me, I don’t have a problem when it comes to pronunciation because Spanish words flow naturally for me but for others it’s not as easy as ABC.
4. You want to give up.
I cannot tell you how many times I just wanted to straight up and ask someone “do you speak English” (aka, hablas ingles?). Doing that is the worst and it doesn’t help. I once had my debit card eaten by the ATM machine and it wouldn’t come out so the next morning I had to go into the bank to get it back. Before doing that, I had already translated what I would most likely say to the teller in Spanish of how to retrieve my debit card (I eventually did) but with a complicated situation like that I just wanted so badly to speak to someone in English. A situation like that truly made me realize the CON of learning a new language and what its like being in a country where your first language is not their native language. Don’t give up and keep trying. Locals will help you out (most of them) with your language skills.
5. You learn how to tune things out.
Taking public transportation everywhere (i.e. Metro and the bus), you learn to just be in tune with your own thoughts. Sometimes, I want to try and eavesdrop on other people’s conversations just so I can practice “learning” and understanding the language better but that usually lasts about 30 seconds. 45 seconds on a good day. But then, something that will really catch my attention is when I hear someone walking down the street near me and they’re speaking *gasp* Ingles! “Is that English I hear???” This makes me want to run down the street and chase them so I can strike up a conversation with this stranger that I automatically have something in common with.
6. You feel proud when you see progress.
Wait did they just understand me? Yes! This is when you start developing a feeling of success and like you’re actually getting it! You start to incorporate small Spanish words/phrases into your daily vocabulary (Spanglish??). I went into a libreria (bookstore) once to buy a book for my class and spoke in basic Spanish the whole time without asking one of the workers to repeat herself. One of my proudest moments. *bow*
7. When all else fails, just smile and laugh.
Sometimes when I’m on the metro and people will just say something in Spanish to me about that weird performer playing an accordion in our train car, just smiling and nodding is the best way to usually respond. This is basically a “I don’t know what you’re saying but I’m 95% sure I know what you’re talking about so I’ll just smile and giggle a little to look cute” moment. No pasa nada. Another example is when I recently saw “How to Be Single” at the cinema with my friend and to our surprise (duh) it was all in Spanish with no subtitles. Silly us, we’re in Spain, why would there be English subtitles? We foolishly thought that since it was an American film it would be in English but with at least Spanish subtitles but NOPE. Todos espanol 🙂 No biggie, we just stayed and watched the movie and while we probably didn’t understand most of the jokes with slang, we just smiled and laughed along with the rest of the audience.
Clearly, I have come up with some tips for those who wish to learn a new language in a different country:
–Make friends with the locals. Your conversational skills will skyrocket once you make friends with Spaniards especially those who are your age because then you’ll have plently to talk about.
–Listen. There’s a fine line between hearing things and actually listening. It’s the little things. Not having your headphones in and listening to music when you’re out in public, really having your full undivided attention when you’re talking with someone in a store or the mercado, etc.
–Do things you would normally do in America but in the language you want to learn. Go to the movies, see a musical (I highly recommend El Rey Leon), have the TV on, read the local newspaper, text in Spanish to your Spanish friends (or American) etc. I recently changed the language on my phone to Spanish. It’s a big step but once getting out of your comfort zone, you’re one step closer to learning the language better than those who still read in English.
–Just don’t speak English period. Transitioning into Spanish from English will only make things easier as long as you incorporate it into your daily language. You know you’re improving when you’re not using your language translator app as much.
Those are just some of the aspects of learning a new language I have experienced along with my other friends here in Madrid. More stories of awkwardly mis-pronouncing a word and getting looks from strangers to come. This weekend, I’m traveling to Dublin with my friend to explore and hopefully get some luck from the Irish. On March 6 (this Sunday), I turn 21! Expect a post detailing all about my birthday weekend within the next week.