It seems really redundant to say that speaking and learning a language is the best way to learn it. As redundant as it seems, it is incredible how much more I learned by studying abroad and actually speaking the language.
When you’re in the country, it’s very far removed from the classroom where you sat in the corner and spoke only when you absolutely had to. If you want to enjoy the experience, or even be relatively comfortable, you have to speak the language and understand what the other person is saying.
In less than a week, those around me could notice that my Spanish was improving in every way—I was speaking a lot better, I was actually understanding what I was being told (my first two days, I kept saying, “Repeita, por favor” whenever someone opened their mouth), and my writing/reading were also improving. I am not putting down the classroom in any way, but the experience of living abroad is so much more educational than the classroom is because, as the expression goes, you sink or swim—and most of us hate sinking enough to learn how to swim.
Most of my colleagues and I have all agreed that we’ve gotten probably more education walking the streets of Toledo and Madrid or talking with our host families than we did in our classes (and that’s not because the classes don’t teach you anything). The really neat aspect that I don’t think can be easily taught in a classroom at all is all of the different regionalisms—the different expressions and sayings that each region and country have.
When you’re studying abroad, you have an excellent opportunity to learn many of those expressions that are harder to learn in a classroom setting. I wasn’t convinced before this experience, but I now wholeheartedly believe that if you are serious about learning a foreign language then you need to study abroad! There is just no substitute for being in the country and directly learning the language as you live there.
Joshua Travers is a senior double majoring in Spanish Education and Integrated Social Studies AYA currently studying in Toledo, Spain.