Learning a language abroad is a great way to enhance your skills, make great friends and immerse yourself into a new culture. My first solo adventure to Spain was back in 2012 when I decided I wanted to learn Spanish in my summer holidays from university. I didn’t know much about Malaga but chose it purely because of its warm weather and nice manageable size.
One of the great advantages of choosing to go to a language school is that you get instant friends, which is particularly good if you’re travelling solo. Often, they give you an option to live with fellow students too, which is even better because it means you are usually living in an apartment rather than a hostel like most travellers. When I arrived in Malaga I was living with an Italian girl, a British guy and a Dutch guy. We were all travelling alone, so we became friends very quickly and we even all met up in London a few years later.
On the first day of the course you get put into your level and meet your classmates. My class had a huge mix of nationalities which made for really interesting conversations. Many of them didn’t actually speak English, which was very good as it meant I couldn’t get lazy and revert to speaking in English. My advice would be to really make sure you’re in the right level because I was definitely in a level that was a bit too high for me but I never said anything so I didn’t learn as much as I could have. It’s personal preference as to whether you’d rather be at the bottom of a high-level class or top of a lower level class if you can’t find a perfect fit. Personally, I’d prefer to be at the top of a lower level class because if I feel out of my depth I tend to go very quiet and be too afraid to talk in class in case I say something wrong. But there’s definitely something to be said for challenging yourself in a harder class. Just make sure you’re comfortable with your class.
Classes started at 9AM and to begin with a two-hour grammar class, where we used out textbooks and we went over a specific grammar point, whilst learning some new vocabulary along the way. To begin, it would mostly be the teacher explaining the grammar on the whiteboard but once we had a grasp of it, we put it into practice by doing activities and finally a speaking task where we use it in a real-life scenario. After the grammar class, we would have a lunch break sat out in the beautiful plaza and then head back in for a two-hour conversation class with a different teacher. Having a different conversation teacher for each class was really helpful because it means you can get used to understanding different accents and voices. During this class, we had the opportunity to really use all of the vocabulary and grammar we’d been learning in the morning classes.
The language school I went to offered lots of traditional Spanish activities such as a cooking class, where you learn how to make paella, and a salsa dancing class. These are a great way to immerse yourself in not only the language but the culture too. They’re also a great way to get to know the other students and the teachers. The teachers at my school were all incredibly friendly and keen to get to know everyone and show us their culture and traditions.
The best part about studying a language abroad is without a doubt the fact that you can practically use what you have learnt on a daily basis. It was a common occurrence that I’d be out in the street and I’d hear a Spanish person say a word that I’d learnt that week and you hear how it’s used in a natural way and then you can try and replicate it. Another reason that it really is so much better than learning a language in your native country is that you have so many opportunities to speak to native speakers. Spanish people are very sociable and love to talk, so when you go to the local bar, you’ll have loads of people who are jumping at the chance to speak to you and hear about where you’re from, and it’s a great way to practice your Spanish. If you’re old enough I would also recommend having a few beers or wines – they really help with confidence when speaking a new language!
Finally, my advice is to jump into every opportunity that you are handed. Speak to everyone (in the language you are learning if you can) and make connections. Learning a language abroad is a unique way to travel because it allows you to involve yourself in a culture in a way that many travellers cannot. So make the most of it!
Guest Author: Andrea Furneaux
Psychology graduate Andrea Furneaux fell in love with travel at a young age, living abroad and exploring far corners of the world with her family. After volunteering in Mexico and Brazil on a gap year, she headed for Spain straight after university, where she has worked as an English teacher for the last three years. When she’s not lying on a beach on the Costa de Sol, she’s playing tennis at the local club or working on her new blog. Check out her blog: www.andreaisla.com