No hablo español. I do not speak Spanish. I may have taken two years of Spanish in high school, but I didn’t really learn anything past “¿Dónde está el baño?” Whatever else I learned has long whooshed out of my brain. So why would I, a non-Spanish speaker, go to Spain?
The U.S. doesn’t put nearly enough emphasis on the value of being bilingual. A 21-year-old I met in Colombia could easily carry a conversation in English even though he’d only been studying English for three months. A man I met on the outskirts of the Saharan desert in Morocco listed off on his fingers nine languages he could speak.
I decided to step up my game by attempting to learn Spanish in an environment where I am forced to learn in order to survive. It’s hard, and I make a fool of myself regularly, but I’ve come kilometers (I’m in Europe. Hence, the metric system). There are two programs I’ve utilized here in Spain to enhance my learning. First, I’m living in a homestay. Second, I have an “intercambio.”
Living in a homestay means I live in a Spanish family’s home with another study abroad student. My homestay parents don’t speak English, so I must communicate in Spanish. They patiently have conversations with me and correct my Spanish. They’ll even help with homework.
Miscommunications are an everyday occurrence. One time, she asked to see a picture of my family. The first photo I found was from 1995 I had paired with a reenactment my siblings and I created in 2012. She looked at the two pictures confused, pointed at me in the ’95 picture, and asked if that was my baby. Not understanding, I said, “Yes, that’s me!” She didn’t believe me and kept repeating the question to which I kept replying with a resounding, “Yes.” Eventually, I realized what she was actually asking and ended our cycle of questions and answers. Despite confusions like this, living in a homestay has been the best tool for learning Spanish.
Intercambio is a language exchange program where I was paired with a Spanish student my age. We meet weekly, grab coffee, and chat about life in both English and Spanish. It’s not only great practice, but she also teaches me aspects of the culture I wouldn’t understand otherwise, like Spanish slang and gestures. I’ve also taught her a little about my culture by inviting her to ISA’s pumpkin carving event.
I am far from fluent, but I have a stronger motivation to reach the day when I can stamp “bilingual” on my resume.
The world awaits…discover it.