9 Ways to Maximize Spanish Language Skills Abroad

Many people come to Buenos Aires to improve their Spanish. It is important to remember that the key to learning a language is time and exposure.  Unfortunately, not all of us can spend unlimited time in a Spanish speaking country. The amount of time can vary tremendously in how much you progress in your language abilities (depending on the effort that you put into it).  Here are 9 simple changes that you can make in your day to day life that will make a huge difference in your skills.

Start taking in only Spanish media

That’s right.  Clear out your music library, toss your book collection, and revamp your Netflix queue. There is tons of media coming out of the Spanish speaking world and the more contact that you can have with it the better. We know that being abroad can be challenging and sometimes all you want is to curl up with a book and your favorite album to feel a little closer to home and to your native tongue… but we believe  in your inner strength to get through one more day without it. Fight the urge! It will pay off in the end.

Don’t let others speak for you

If you are hanging out with people whose Spanish is stronger than yours, great! But don’t let them take over. It is easy to sit back and let someone else get directions on the street or order when out at a restaurant but do your best to also take the initiative. Your friend surely loves you and will stick by you even if you take twice as long to order a drink at the bar.

Initiate your relationships in Spanish

This is one tip that is not so common sense.  Once you get used to speaking to someone in a particular language it is hard to go back and switch.  Buenos Aires has a huge international community but many people speak English even though it is not their native language. If you can communicate in Spanish do your best to do so right off the bat so that the most comfortable language to speak in with your friends is Spanish – even if it not the easiest one.

Keep responding in Spanish

English is undoubtedly the language of travel and often serves as a common ground for communication for people from all over the world. In Buenos Aires many people have spent years studying English but never get the chance to practice. So when they see you fumbling over your words they jump on the opportunity. This can be a huge relief at times but also can hinder your progress. The best thing to do is to explain to them that they are welcome to speak in English but that you would prefer to also practice and that you are going to continue to respond in Spanish. It is a win- win situation.

Take a class or get a tutor

Are you finding yourself still struggling with those subjunctives? Conditionals? RRs? The list goes on… Create an opportunity for yourself to hammer out those fine details and ask the questions that you need before your errors become bad habits.

Break through the embarrassment barrier

We get it – your Spanish isn’t perfect.  Sorry, but the only way that you are going to get past that is by speaking. We have all had awful moments of stammering when trying to explain to the bus driver where you need to get off or talking to the woman at the grocery store. It’s no fun at first, but it gets better. Learn to laugh it off and keep trying – in no time not only will you not care when you make mistakes but those mistakes will begin to become fewer and fewer.

Use language exchange groups and find a conversation partner

There are tons of people in this city who want to learn English and other languages.  As a result, in recent years conversation groups such as Mate Club de Conversación, Spanglish, and Mundolingo have popped up.  Most of these events have more native Spanish speakers than any other language and are great places to meet others want to exchange language with you.  It is a nice way to practice and even more importantly to meet other people who are interested in meeting up for coffee on a regular basis to practice your language skills.

Create consistent incentives for yourself

People say all of the time “just hang out with the locals!” Well, sometimes that is easier said than done – especially if you are at a very beginner level of Spanish. It is hard to transmit your personality when you are limited to phrases like “I like cinema” and “Where is the bathroom?” There is one sure fire way to develop relationships-  to put yourself in a situation on a regular basis that requires you to communicate in Spanish to reach a goal.  Whatever your interests may be- yoga, dance, cooking etc. seek it out in Buenos Aires! Whatever your interests, you can find them in this city and classes are typically offered at an affordable cost.

Make it clear to your friends that it is OK to correct you

Once you have fostered some Spanish speaking relationships (see steps 1-8 if you are unsure how to do that) take advantage of them. Of course your friends are not your teachers and have no responsibility to explain grammar rules to you, but they know when you are making mistakes. Make it clear to them not only that you don’t mind it when they correct you but in fact it is helpful. When in a Spanish speaking country, every moment is an opportunity for progress.

Heather Houde @ Mente Argentina