Moving is hard. Also, moving to a new country is hard. Oh yeah, and moving to a country that doesn’t speak your native language is even harder. But there’s no point of living if you’re not up for challenges, right? A while back I wrote a post about how the best way to learn a new language is through speaking. Well, one of the best ways to do so is to immerse yourself in your target language.
This can be as simple and accessible as only consuming media in your target language. However, an even more helpful way to immerse yourself in your target language is to live in the country that speaks it. Of course this isn’t an option everyone can readily do. But I had the option and took it. To be able to immerse myself in my target language is a privilege, one I’m hoping to take full advantage of.
So, if you’d like to read about how I’m doing as I try to immerse myself in my target language, keep on reading.
Country Of Choice
If you read my first thoughts of Barcelona post, which country I’m in is no surprise. Not only am I living in Barcelona, Spain to immerse myself in my target language, Spanish. But I’m also living with a host family. That means the majority of my day is speaking – or attempting to – in Spanish. I do have a job where I speak English most of the day, however I hear Spanish and Catalan around me everyday. So still, I am surrounded by it!
When choosing the country you’d like to live in to immerse yourself in your target language, it’s important to ask yourself several questions.
Is this the dialect/accent I’d like to learn?
The Spanish accent isn’t my favorite Spanish accent. I really like the Mexican and Colombian accents, as well as Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban. However I want to be familiar with all forms of speaking. However, if you’re really partial to one accent over another, this could make or break your decision. Plus, I took into consideration which accent/dialect would be easiest to immerse myself in my target language.
Although I love the Caribbean accents from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba, they speak SO fast and use a lot of slang and different words. I didn’t feel it would be the best fit for me or my level of Spanish.
Which country can I live in?
Accents aside, what country can you live in? What country do you want to live in? This was a no-brainer. Although the Colombian accent in general I really love, I always knew I’d be in Spain. It’s generally a safe country, it’s not too expensive (depending on the city and your lifestyle of course) and I felt immersing myself in my target language would be best served in Spain.
Additionally, which country has job opportunities for you? For the type of job I was searching for, I really had a lot of options for where I could go. However, depending on your qualifications and what you’d like to do, this could differ. Of course then you’ll have to take into account your lifestyle, cost of living, etc.
Using My Spanish Skills
Part of living in a new country means a lot – emphasis on a LOT – of paperwork. Plus, just your everyday tasks, exploring, eating out, etc. I came into contact with so many people my first couple of weeks in Barcelona. I can’t be certain if it’s more than usual or if I notice it more because I’m not using English, but my brain is tired everyday. Whether it be just trying to keep up at dinner with my host family or listening to my coworkers, the amount of mental work it takes is exhausting at times.
It can also be a great shot to your confidence. Before coming to Barcelona I knew my Spanish was far from perfect but I thought I was a lot more prepared. Immersing myself in my target language proved to be way harder than I expected. So many awkward moments, misunderstandings and just downright confusion than I can keep track of. As someone who doesn’t like attention, I feel like it’s constantly on me as I am the “English speaker” in certain contexts.
It could be a lot worse. Luckily I’m in a big, multicultural city that sees tourists every day of the year. So immersing myself in my target language by using broken Spanish to locals isn’t rare or odd in most places. It still doesn’t make it easier when you feel dumb, out of place and just downright lonely.
Tips to Keep Your Spirits High
As I alluded to, I’ve had several low moments in my time in Barcelona so far. Realizing my Spanish wasn’t as good as I thought, feeling stupid, alone, etc. It can all take a toll on you. And this was just in the first few weeks! If you are living as an expat right now, or plan to in the future, here are a few tips that can help you as you immerse yourself in your target language and a new culture.
Tip #1: Jot Down the Positive Language Moments
Did you order your ice cream perfectly without any hiccups? Could you give directions to the nearest bank seamlessly? Or did you just answer the question of “how was your day” well? Remember these moments, keep track of these moments!
Tip #2: Journal
It doesn’t have to be everyday. But take time to remember how you’re feeling, what you’re experiencing and your goals. This can help you keep the big picture in mind at all times and hopefully keep pushing you towards the end goal.
Tip #3: Explore Your New City
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Actually, when I first arrived I was a bit nervous to go wander around my neighborhood. And when I started having some blunders while speaking Spanish, I became so scared of looking dumb I’d avoid as much human interaction as possible. Even as an introvert, I realize this is unhealthy and a waste of time.
I’m in freaking BARCELONA. I wanted to come here for years to live out my Cheetah Girls dream. Should I waste time wallowing in self-pity? Heck no! If immersing myself in my target language means looking silly to a few workers at restaurants, stores, etc., I’ll have to get through it. I won’t be here forever, so I need to make the most of it.
Tip #4: Plan Future Travels
Besides exploring Spain, immersing myself to learn my target language and a challenge, I want to travel Europe! Being in Europe as an American means flights are significantly cheaper than they would be. I spent a lot of my downtime planning my big two-week winter break trip in December. Not only did it make me exciting to plan everything, but it reminded me to keep pushing through hard moments.
I told myself that every bump in the road, every awkward moment and every time I felt frustrated was helping me be able to travel and fund my trip. It helped when I was feeling sad to know I’d be spending Christmas eating pizza in Rome, Italy.
Tip #5: Take Language Classes
I thought I’d be able to immerse myself in my target language simply by living here and talking to people. While that’s certainly possible, I am looking into starting language classes to really help me improve. Due to my hectic schedules I haven’t been as consistent on italki, but I plan to continue doing weekly practice there as well as in-person lessons in Barcelona.
I still think italki is a great resource and I believe if I hadn’t done conversation practices leading up to moving to Barcelona I’d be in worse shape. However, I think I also need more structured help with grammar that would be possible with a professional tutor (with structured, planned classes not just conversation practice) and a language course.
Tip #6: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
This is one I still need to learn. Whether it be asking someone how something works, for directions, to repeat what they said, what a word means, you name it. You may feel like you’re annoying them but most people are willing to help. Getting over the fear you have is the hardest part.
Tip #7: That Being Said, Brush Off Jerks
There have been a couple on instances where people were rude to me when I didn’t understand them. I even had someone come up to ME trying to ask for help with something and when I told him sorry, my Spanish wasn’t very good he rolled his eyes, waved me off and walked away. Unfortunately there are people who don’t have compassion or even just the slightest bit of kindness out there. Luckily, they’re in the minority. And if you do encounter them, remember they are the problem, not you.