December 27, 2013, by Guest blog
It doesn’t help that the Spanish talk at 1000mph anyway
Having been learning Spanish a rather long time, all the way through school and up until now, where it is half of my degree, many people ask whether I am fluent yet. I am still unsure with what to respond as I can definitely get by and hold a proper conversation, however complete fluency is another matter. The first few weeks in Madrid were rather frustrating in terms of language acquisition.
Having generally learnt just grammar and ‘interesting’ and ‘challenging’ conversation topics such as immigration, the environment, etc. throughout my studies, it was a completely different matter when searching for flats and generally holding a conversation with the three Spanish students I live with….I guess university can’t prepare you for everything! For a while I felt I couldn’t really join in on their conversations (it doesn’t help that the Spanish talk at 1000mph anyway) due to different cultural references, TV shows and all the slang that they use, thus I was rather mute and just trying to absorb what was going on around me.
Since arriving in Madrid I have been keeping a vocab book for all the new words, expressions and slang I’ve picked up and it is astonishing how full it is when I have been learning the language for so long. Sometimes I wonder whether anyone can be completely fluent in a second language!
Other than spending time with my housemates and trying to understand what it is they are going on about, I have been lucky to receive a free Spanish course through my job. This has been 4 hours a week for 3 months and it has definitely been of use in practising grammar structures, tenses and other new vocab and phrases.
One thing all Nottingham professors urged us to do was to remember to keep up our grammar whilst being abroad and I can definitely see how easy it is to forget and to just focus on being able to speak the language. Having spoken to other year abroad-ers though, it all seems as if we are panicking about similar things and worrying about not having enough contact with the language. So as well as the Spanish classes, I have also found conversation partners to meet up with and exchange my English for their Spanish which is another useful way of a) meeting new people and b) making sure someone corrects you (a bigger problem that you imagine – most of the time they are so impressed you are even speaking their language!). I’ve also been getting into a Spanish series called Isabel which is similar to The Tudors and it is definitely useful for language acquisition as well as an interesting interpretation on that time period (I’m a bit of a history nerd).
I think after a slow start of adjusting to living abroad, the language really does settle in and becomes your way of life. I worry less about trying to do absolutely everything in Spanish and more about my pronunciation, my sentence structure, comprehension and general fluency. I’m starting to learn through both work and general life the complexities of language, difficulties of translation and finding it is so much easier to have a more Spanish mentality to make settling in even smoother.
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