Learning Language Through Immersion

Learning a new language is hard work. It’s a time consuming endeavour that takes sacrifice especially when you’re travelling. When I was taking Spanish lessons in Medellín I missed out on a day trip to a nearby famous town and partying with friends because I had homework to do.

But the frustration of not being able to understand the locals and express my ideas to them or them to me is more frustrating. I see my friends speaking Spanish, in particular my European friends (many of them are multilingual) and it feels like a superpower. A superpower that I want to have.

Being in Latin America, I’m in the perfect environment to learn Spanish. Learning language through immersion is the consensus best way to learn a language. Babies don’t take grammar classes and learn conjugation but they are able to eventually speak and understand because they’ve had thousands of hours of exposure to that language.

Fortunately, I now know enough Spanish to get by but I’m still learning more everyday. If I’m inside a mall I’ll see an exit sign that says Salida” or an enter sign that says Entrada” and now I know the Spanish words for enter and exit. I’ll read the writing on things in the store or stuff I buy like cerveza-beer, jugo-juice, jabon-soap, and now I know more Spanish words. Every time I enter a store the vendor would say Bienvenidos-Welcome, when I say Gracias-thank you they respond with conmucho gusto-you’re welcome.

It’s interesting how one can express a wide range of ideas and desires with a small vocabulary. I can get by when it comes to asking for directions, buying things, or ordering food from a restaurant. I’ve learned that some phrases are incredibly versatile such as Donda esta” or Where is”. Donda esta el baño?” or Where is the washroom?”, Donda esta la basura?” or Where is the garbage?”

While travelling to a country that speaks the target language is important, I can easily just make friends with other travellers that speak English. Often the case, I’ll make a friend that knows better Spanish than I do then rely on them the entire time we’re together. This is a reminder to keep putting myself out there in uncomfortable situations where I’ll need to speak the language.

May 15, 2022


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