"One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way."
-- Frank Smith
In the year 2030, 50% of the United States population will be Hispanic. Coupled with this fact is a notable increase in the number of my Spanish speaking gap year clients. I therefore decided to quit dabbling in local Spanish classes (having taken German and French throughout high school and college), and to immerse myself in a Spanish speaking country for a minimum of 3 weeks in order to acquire solid conversational skills. (which I realize now is not nearly long enough!)
I enrolled in The Spanish Institute of Cuenca, Ecuador, which is a small, customized language program. It offers flexible arrangements based on a student’s time, interest, and budget. My schedule included Monday through Friday morning classes of four hours each, a homestay with a local family, and interesting excursions in and outside of the city, the third largest in Ecuador. I found myself in a private, one-on-one tutorial with a friendly, warm, experienced female teacher named Mariana. We spoke Spanish in a variety of settings which included: the traditional classroom where we reviewed grammar, idiomatic expressions, and my nightly reading assignments in The Alchemist, a local café where we drank rich Ecuadorian coffee and ate hot, fresh pastries, visits to local artisanal centers and to historic Incan ruins. One Friday, we hiked in the Cajas, the lower Andes Mountains, just forty minutes outside of the city. In hopes of enticing others to learn another language, as well as summarizing my own learning process, I compiled of list of ten useful tips for any age for language immersion.
Bring a small dictionary that fits into your pocket or bag, but whose print is large enough to read! Iphones for google translate in the market are awkward, slow, and invite theft.
Practice speaking when you are fresh and awake! (As the day faded, so did my ability to speak!)
Purchase a small book (at your level) to read in that language to complement your speaking.
Dive in and participate in activities with the homestay family - go to the market with a family member, dry the dishes, help with the laundry, watch television or a movie, attend a birthday celebration, ride the local bus or train, walk/wander the city, share music.
Be respectful of the culture - adapt to their way of life i.e. dress, customs, greetings, food, familial routines.
Take breaks to clear your head/pace yourself. Walk, exercise, read a book in English, sleep, keep a journal.
Recognize that fatigue is a normal part of the immersion process and includes adjustment to a different family and culture, as well as the overload of another language 24/7.
Review each night and practice using a new word, verb tense, or phrase in daily conversation.
Share photos of your family, home, state, country with your teacher and homestay family - a good conversation starter.
Keep a sense of humor!! (I got lost twice in the first 3 days and said a dirty word in a conversation with the entire family present at the dinner table!)…they are usually very forgiving and will appreciate your efforts to learn their language and culture.