Writing an essay on Don Quixote, participating in a classroom debate on immigration and conjugating the imperfect subjunctive are three examples of what I can now do in Spanish thanks to my time so far at university – OK, maybe not the last one, but who really understands the imperfect subjunctive anyway?
They say your Year Abroad is a chance for your language to fly: a real opportunity for cultural immersion and to iron-out areas which you are not so confident in.
But what they don’t prepare you for, linguistically, are the challenges you might face when you move abroad and experience day-to-day problems.
Thinking back to my first couple of weeks in Bilbao, when my enthusiasm and motivation for improving my Spanish was at a high, I decided to immerse myself in as much of the target language as I could. From writing a shopping list for the supermarket to chatting to my Spanish flatmates about their nights out in Bilbao, I hit a hurdle and realised that this very basic vocabulary was something I hadn’t touched on much during my time at university. Whilst I cruised through second year (cruised being used very lightly, battled would be more accurate) I worked through a mental check-list of what I’d need to learn for my exams, and didn’t stray very far from this path at all.
So far, I haven’t come across a chance for my Spanish debating skills to surface, nor have I been able to bring my knowledge of how to subtitle a Spanish video to use. But I have faced a number of challenges when it comes to using my languages abroad; the experiences school doesn’t prepare you for. From spending a weekend on the phone to technical support fixing our WiFi, to cheering up a crying child in the playground at school and negotiating a podiatrist appointment in Spanish, there have been a few problems where a degree in Spanish hasn’t been much help at all: it’s every man for himself with this kind of vocabulary! Although these challenges have been a struggle for my level of Spanish, they have also been a great opportunity to make the best of my bank of vocabulary and work my way round any words I am not so sure of.
Since I started working online with MyTutor, tutoring GCSE French and Spanish students through their exams, I have been teaching ways to easily incorporate language learning into your daily routine: listening to podcasts, switching to Netflix in your target language and covering your house in post-it notes (or Flash Sticks). But in doing this, I’ve noticed I myself am not doing much in my free-time to work on my languages, especially French. Writing this blog post and making a note of my language goals will hopefully encourage me to switch up my routine, and hopefully it has inspired you too!
If you have enjoyed reading this post, head over to Alice in Wanderland Diary to read more.