“A different language is a different vision of life.”
Federico Fellini, Italian movie director (1920 -1993)
My Experience In Spanish Immersion
One of my main focuses while traveling in Latin America is to become more or less conversationally fluent in Spanish before leaving.
As part of my plans, I have been enrolling myself in Spanish immersion programs in the countries I am visiting which have included Peru and Chile and will include Argentina, Uruguay, Columbia, Panama, Guatemala and finally Mexico before making my way back into the States. But here is what my experience has been so far
My first experience of Spanish Immersion happened in town called Arequipa Peru at the Llama Spanish School owned and operated by Maria Del Carmen.
I rented a room in Maria’s house for approximately two weeks and during this time I took 4 hours a day of private one on one lessons. In the mornings we focused primarily on grammar structure and in the afternoon, we would engage in one on one conversation using the rules we just learned.
In the evenings, I always tried to get an additional few hours in by listening to Spanish Lessons by Michel Thomas on my Ipod. I have found that this combination, although very intense mentally, helped me learn a tremendous amount in a very short period of time. Especially when you can only speak Spanish outside of class.
I particularly like the Michel Thomas series because he focuses on no stress learning and has almost nothing to do with memorizing grammar rules, which if you think about it, is how we actually come to learn any language.
For example, when we are kids, we learn from the interactions with our parents and the world around us. We don’t engage in learning how to be perfectly articulate at four years old. I have found that learning all the rules of the language before really getting the basics down can actually hurt your learning curve because it interferes with your thought process when you try to speak naturally.
I often find I learn more by overhearing conversation and trying to engage in it while my friends kindly correct me if I say something wrong.
However, in the end, it’s all necessary and like with anything, the more exposure you have to something regardless of the format, becomes beneficial.
But without question, immersing yourself in a culture of the language your trying to learn is hands down the fastest ways to learn that language. And by combining it with daily classes is like adding rocket fuel to your learning curve.
For example, if you figure the amount of cumulative time I put in over just two weeks, it’s equivalent to taking more than an entire semester of Spanish lessons at a typical college or high school in the States. Not to mention all of my lessons are done private one on one. And the best part is it can cost less than minimum wage in most U.S. cities depending on where you are in Latin America.
With that said, I think it’s important to mention certain countries in South America speak different dialects of Spanish, most notably Chile and Argentina.
In Chile for example, they speak with a slight lisp and tend to drop the endings of many words, especially when ending in the letter “S” They also speak extremely fast which can make it very difficult to understand if your just starting out.
Alternatively, the countries most known in Latin America for speaking the cleanest Spanish include Peru, Columbia, Venezuela and Mexico. It’s no secret and even Chileans admit they speak terrible Spanish.
Despite this however, I have tried to make my learning experience in Chile into a positive by really trying to hone in what people are saying, even though most of the time I have no clue. In the long run I think this will help tremendously when traveling in countries where they speak slower and with more grammatically correct Spanish. At least that’s what I am hoping.
My theory is, that it’s probably similar to how professional baseball players practice swinging at balls moving much faster than what the average pitcher throws. But when game time comes, it’s as though the ball is moving in slow motion compared to practice time, thus increasing their chances of success.
Some Additional Thoughts on Learning a New Language
Without a doubt, learning a Spanish has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but also one of the most rewarding.
I am starting to feel as though I am crossing a threshold into being able to communicate at least in basic conversation and find myself even thinking in Spanish a lot of times. This is what happens through immersion. It’s a natural transformation and words literally start to come out without even thinking about them. In fact, in some cases I even prefer the simpler ideas expressed through the many verbs in the Spanish language.
In addition to learning Spanish, I have also gained a lot of insight into many root words of my own language, which has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking that I never could have understood before.
By learning a new language, one really comes to understand how different cultures think about the world and life in general. Said another way, learning a new language does more than give you the sexy appeal of speaking multiple languages, it literally starts to change who you are at the core.
Learning new languages is fast becoming a new hobby of mine, especially considering I have come to understand that with focus and immersion, I can easily learn a new language quite fluently within 6-12 months. It’s also a fascinating way to meet new people from all over the world and a beautiful way to pass time while your bored.
If you could learn any language what would it be? Where would you go to learn it? I would love to hear your comments.