So you think two months is a short time to learn a language? It certainly is, but with a hell of a lot of motivation and dedication, it can be done! In my opinion, the way that I did it is one of the best ways if you have the time to really commit yourself. So let me share with you my experience, and if you follow it, you will be speaking the language of your desire in no time!
It was always my dream to be able to speak Spanish fluently, so when the opportunity arrived, I grabbed it with both hands and dived for it! I finished studying university halfway through the year in 2012, and my full time job wasn’t starting until February the following year, so I took advantage of this long vacation to do something productive and something I’d always yearned for.
I’d backpacked through South America the previous year which I absolutely loved, but this time I wanted to stay in one place in Latin America to really focus on my Spanish, and also a place close to the beach to be able to improve my surfing skills (two birds with one stone!). My choice was easily made for me after asking two of my friends who had travelled through Central America. They both replied, without hesitation, that Nicaragua was the ideal country to go to in order to learn Spanish, surf, meet friendly locals and not completely break my wallet. So after researching and communicating with various Spanish schools in a small coastal town called San Juan del Sur, I booked the one that suited me most, paid for my flights, packed my bags, got on the plane and hoped for the best!
What lay ahead of me was to be the best two months of my entire life. But not having a clue about that as yet, was I nervous going to a completely foreign country on my own without knowing a soul there? Hell yes! Many times on the flight over, I asked myself if this is what I really wanted to do. I was definitely getting right out of my comfort zone!
The school that I booked provided many different services which you could pick and choose what suits you best. I wanted to experience the whole lot, so I had intensive, private Spanish classes for four hours per day, an activity in the afternoon every day, homestay with a local family including all meals and airport pick up, all for just 200 USD a week! I could go on and on in detail about how incredibly amazing each aspect was, but I would never finish writing this post, so let me give you an overview of my experience.
This is what my day looked like; four hours of class in the morning from 8am with a lovely, friendly, professional, local teacher, getting a lift with the school to the beach to go surfing in the afternoon for a few hours, spending the evening studying on my own in my private room and talking and playing in Spanish with my homestay kids at night. So you can imagine, being determined to maximise the amount of exposure to Spanish and taking advantage of every interaction with the locals, one was bound to leave fluent by the end!
The indication of my improvement came with how much I interacted with my host family. I thank the universe to the moon and back for giving me the best host family in the world! When I first arrived, the only members of the family who would talk to me were the children, who were seven and four years old. They were my mini best friends! I really appreciated their patience and energy to deal with me. Then after a couple of weeks, I was able to have half decent conversations with the older ladies. And then finally I knew that my Spanish had reached a high level when I became friends with those the same age as me! (It was a huge family!) I would go out with them to the local bar and be able to communicate with them, even with all the loud noise around us! This is when I felt completely accomplished and that all the hard work had paid off.
There were some key things that made it possible for me to become fluent, because as you can guess, not everyone who attends the school and stays with a host family leaves with the same outcome. But I can assure you, follow these steps and you will be maximising your chances:
– Have one-on-one, private classes. This was absolutely what sped up my learning process. I was able to ask as many specific questions as I needed, go off topic and start interesting conversations to get to know the teacher and learn at my own pace. Because I was doing my homework diligently every night, this pace was quite fast.
– Avoid speaking your native language! There were other foreigners at the school who were doing the same thing as me. It was great to have them there for support and not to feel alone in a foreign country, but I avoided speaking English as much as I could.
– Make friends with locals. There are words and expressions that you don’t learn in a classroom that you can pick up by being around friends having casual conversations. By hanging out with them, you are also maximising the amount of time spent exposed to the language.
– Study on your own! My favourite way to do this was by making flashcards to memorise vocabulary and grammar. The amount that I had by the end was incredible! I would spend a good two hours each night going through them.
– Avoid any other distractions. As I said before, I was lucky enough to have these two months where I could solely dedicate myself to Spanish. Being in a tiny coastal town where the main activities were surfing and studying helped too!
There are definitely other tips for language learning in general, but in order to learn it in a short period of time, the above points were what really got me there. I hope I’ve motivated you to take some time out of your life and start achieving your language goals!
If you’re interested in the school where I studied and the homestay family I stayed with in Nicaragua, check out the details and photos below. I cannot speak highly of them enough!