Just Dive In: How to Make Spanish Language Immersion Work for You
Intercultural skills and experience abroad are no longer an added bonus on your resume in today’s job market. They are often a requirement. In most industries, employers are now looking for someone who has spent time in another country, understands how different cultures see the world and can use those skills in the office. But what’s the best way to gain intercultural experience for your career while also improving your skills in a second language? Language immersion. foto
Take a risk, dive into situations on a daily basis where you’ve got to speak the local language, regardless of how prepared you feel or how many verbs you know how to conjugate. I should warn you that language immersion is not always comfortable or easy though. It’s not as easy as sitting in the back row of your weekly Spanish class in the United States, avoiding eye contact with the teacher so you don’t have to speak and then leaving class to carry on with your evening in English. I am talking about living in your target language. If you’re up for the challenge, here are four ways to make language immersion work for you:
- Choose a language that grabs you and fits you: Everyone seems to be learning Chinese these days. I am sure there will be business opportunities in the future for those who learn Chinese. However, I have no plans to learn Chinese. It doesn’t grab my interest. Instead, I have learned Spanish through travel and language immersion in Latin America. Why did I choose Spanish? It fits my personality. From the beginning, I felt good speaking the Spanish language. It struck me as fun and expressive. It gave me energy. Native speakers complimented me and encouraged me to keep going. I reached a high level of Spanish because I chose the language that really interested me, not the language that is expected to become the future of international business. To build authentic professional skills, find out which language and which country fits you.
- Do what you love in your target language: When you go abroad to study a language, you don’t have to limit your formal language training to classroom learning. If you are in Buenos Aires and you’re interested in Tango, why not complement your Spanish class with tango lessons, in Spanish, at a traditional Milonga, a few times per week? Get out of the mentality that the learning has to come from a traditional classroom setting and you will be surprised how quickly you will learn.
- Find a language exchange partner: A key piece of language immersion is meeting and becoming friends with local people. Find someone who is your age, wants to learn English and who is from the host country. Meet with them once per week for a language exchange. How does it work? Get a coffee, sit down and divide the time that you both have available. Speak in English for half the time and speak in your target language (their native language) for the second half. Ask them to correct you but focus on building conversational skills. What are the benefits of this? There are many! You get real conversation practice, a chance to work on the grammar points that you learn during your classes and an opportunity to learn about the local culture and customs. You will make a local friend, hopefully get to meet that person’s group of friends and speak more of the target language!
- Go the right places: When you study a second language in a foreign country, your success comes down to hundreds of tiny choices that you make every day. You will have a choice between spending the evening out with your English speaking friends or joining your language exchange partner and his or her friends for a night out at a local restaurant or club. Will you stay in a hostel with other backpackers and speak English or will you live with locals and speak the language with them over dinners late into the evening? Will you go to the café that caters to travelers with a menu in English or will you walk into the café in Madrid that is full of Madrilenos? Of course, there will be times when you are feeling homesick and craving your home culture. That’s fine. Go find your home culture in those situations. But make sure you are challenging yourself every day and stretching your limits. One way to do that is by going to the right places.
Language immersion is not meant to be comfortable in the sense that a Caribbean cruise is comfortable. However, if you are the kind of person who grows with challenge and if you are willing to take risks and put yourself into situations that a lot of people might shy away from then you will see the benefits of your efforts. You will return to your home country with a new language in your repertoire, knowledge and understanding of a new culture, a heap of valuable career skills and a memory that you will hold dear forever.
Is language immersion for you? Mari is the Founder of Spanish and Culture. Her company offers Spanish tutoring and cultural competence training for international professionals in Canada and USA. She has lived, worked and traveled in Latin America and Europe and is a firm believer in the value of language learning through immersion.