So it has been a couple of months since you arrived in your host country for your year abroad and you have settled into life in a new city.
You have set out your goals for the year: maybe you’re new to the language and so you’re aiming for a basic grasp of it before returning home; or maybe you’re studying the language at degree level and you need to consolidate your skills or build confidence to speak to natives?
I am working in Bilbao for my year abroad as an English Language Assistant, or Auxiliar de Conversación. The year forms part of my degree course at university, so I have a grasp of the Spanish language, albeit worse than my French after spending a year working near Geneva and three months in Paris. My main aim this year is to build my confidence speaking Spanish before I return to Leeds to complete the final chapter of my French and Spanish degree next September.
Since arriving in Spain I have been trying to do as much as I can to keep my Spanish exposure to the maximum. This includes reading in Spanish, watching Spanish TV and only downloading Spanish or French Spotify playlists for my journeys to work (a great way of forcing yourself to listen to music in a different language).
I also try to make sure I am speaking Spanish as much as possible. This has been made easy with Erasmus events such as tandem language exchanges to help others learning English in exchange for a conversation in their native language. Luckily my housemates are Spanish so aside from the occasional sentence, most of the conversations at home are in Spanish.
But what about immersing yourself so much in the language that you revert to thinking in the target language, before your mother tongue?
Last week for Halloween a few of us got together before heading out to an event in the city. It was quite a mix of nationalities: English, Welsh, French and Americans. But the only common language which everybody in the room knew was surprisingly not English - it was Spanish.
As you can imagine there were a number of languages flying around the room in various combinations; the French speaking Spanish to the Americans, the English speaking French to the French and the Welsh speaking Spanish to the English!
Since I hadn’t spoken French for a while I seized the opportunity to speak French with the girls. As they didn’t speak much English, the second language we would revert to would be Spanish. Occasionally if I was unsure of the word in either language I’d try in English.
Throughout the night as more and more conversations in different languages started to take place I found myself speaking a mix of French, English and Spanish in the same sentence:
Qu’est-ce que tu fais normalemente cuando tu enseignes the niños?
So have I reached one of the goals for my year abroad; speaking and thinking in three languages at the same time, and thinking in Spanish, before English?
Of course there are days where I don’t understand a single word in Spanish. Maybe I’m tired; maybe I’ve heard too much Spanish for the day or maybe my brain wants to switch back to English mode for the evening. I still class these moments as successful days of my year abroad, as they all form part of my experience here; brain downtime is important too!
So what can I take away from my year abroad so far?
It’s pretty cool to stop and think in your second language.
Thank you for reading my third article for the Student Language Bureau – be sure to check out my personal blog here too!