As counter-intuitive as it may sound, I haven’t spoken as much Spanish as I would have liked this term, despite being in Spain. I live with other Erasmus students, some of whose knowledge of the language is limited. The result of this is that we often speak English in the flat, as it ended up being the language that everyone has in common. Additionally, although I am exposed to spoken Spanish by way of classes, the majority of them are styled as lectures, with student participation being minimal at best. As the main purpose of the Year Abroad is to improve your language skills, I have had to actively create opportunities for myself in order to further practice the spoken language. I thought I would share these with you!
Language exchanges are not only a great opportunity to practice speaking in the target language, they also allow you to meet new people and, ideally, make new friends. Most universities which welcome Erasmus students will offer organised events for speed chatting and language exchanges, which are a great place to start! However, if they don’t, Facebook is a very useful tool for setting something similar up yourself. I responded to an advert on Facebook from a Spanish girl who was looking to improve her English and, as a result, have passed a few enjoyable hours drinking hot chocolate and chatting in Spanish about anything and everything. The added benefit of this is that she has lived in Salamanca for four years and has been able to show me some great places! I’m hoping to participate in something similar in France as the benefits are innumerable!
Although it is a million times easier to resort to your mother tongue when the people around you also speak it, that does somewhat defeat the point of studying abroad. When you’re out and about with your friends, insist on speaking the language as much as possible. When you get into a habit of doing so, speaking becomes easier and more natural. Similarly, I’ve been texting one of my friends from Leicester in Spanish as she wanted to get some practice in before coming here next term and I was happy for any opportunity to do so myself!
3) Take part in events and trips
Most universities offer organised trips and events for their students, and the likelihood is that the people who take part in them will be from countries all over the world. Often, this means that the common tongue will be the language of your host country. One of the main opportunities to speak Spanish for an extended period of time that I’ve had this term was on my trip to Porto. My friend and I ended up sharing a room with a group of Italian girls and a few Spanish girls. As we didn’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak English, we all had to make the effort to speak in and, therefore, practice our Spanish.
4) Extra classes
In addition to trips and gatherings, a lot of universities will offer top up language classes for non-native speakers. Whether these are paid classes or free will vary depending on the university, but sometimes there will be an opportunity to study under student teachers at a reduced price or for free. This is because these classes are mutually beneficial, the students are taught by people whose native tongue is the language they’re aiming to improve and the tutors gain teaching experience at the same time. As I have already mentioned, a lot of my Spanish taught classes here are styled as lectures and don’t offer much opportunity for students to speak themselves. In these instances, language classes for non-native speakers are a great opportunity to practice and improve!
5) Don’t be shy
As a general rule, if you want to practice speaking in a foreign language, you have to create the opportunities to do so yourself. This often means introducing yourself to, and having a chat with, anybody and everybody, from your classmates to your waiters. As someone who is quite shy, this seemed like a daunting task to me and I didn’t put myself out there as much at the start of my placement as I perhaps could have. This is something that I regret now that the term is drawing to a close, as I feel like I haven’t made the most of every linguistic opportunity available. However, my language skills have definitely improved since being here and my regrets are only going to fuel my determination to get stuck right into the language learning process next term!
So, there you have it! A few ideas for making the most out of the educational aspect of your Year Abroad. As ever, I would be delighted to hear your opinions on this matter or any advice that you might have yourselves!