How to Study Abroad and Learn Spanish

Spanish is the second most common language in the world. Being fluent in a second language can make your resume stand out, but how do you learn a new one quickly and well?

First of all, language immersion and good habits for learning a language, like setting your devices to Spanish or going to a language class several times a week, can be very helpful, but they’re not the only ways to learn a language. If you want to study abroad for a semester or a whole degree in a Spanish-speaking country like Argentina, here are the best things you can do to be fluent in Spanish when you get back home.

Before you leave, go over the 100 most-used words.

Learning cognates, which are words that sound or look the same or similar in different languages (like vocabulary and vocabulario in Spanish), is a good way to build your confidence and your vocabulary. You’ll be surprised at how much you know already.

In addition to these simple words, you should practice the 100 most common Spanish words until you can remember each one without thinking about it. You could print out a list of words and try to say each one, or you could use flashcards to see how well you know them. By learning these, you can make simple sentences.

Before you go, you should know that not all places where people speak Spanish use the same dialect. People in Buenos Aires speak “espaol rioplatense,” which is very rhythmic and sounds a little bit like Italian. People who speak this dialect say “vos” instead of “tu,” and the “z” sound that is common in other Spanish dialects sounds more like a “s.”

Live with people who speak Spanish instead of foreigners

One mistake that people make when they study abroad is that they don’t spend enough time with native speakers.

It can be tempting to only hang out with other exchange students abroad, but you might end up speaking English all the time if you do that.

If you can, living with Spanish-speaking people in a flatshare or with a host family is a great way to make close friends and fully immerse yourself in the language, even at home.

So, whether it’s talking about the latest Star Wars movie in Spanish (i.e. La guerra de las galaxias) or trying out local dishes at dinner, living with native speakers can be a great way to learn about the culture and become fluent more quickly.

While you’re living abroad, take a Spanish class.

Immersing yourself in the language isn’t enough. To speak Spanish fluently, you also need to know how the grammar works.

The good news is that Buenos Aires has 28 Spanish-language institutes where people of all levels can learn the language.

This is also something that many universities in Spanish-speaking countries can help you with. In Buenos Aires, which is the best Spanish-speaking city in the QS Best Student Cities 2018 ranking, most universities offer some kind of language learning program to international students, either for free or for a small fee.

For example, the Universidad de San Andres has a four-week intensive language course with four hours of Spanish classes every day.

In a similar way, international students can take a 15-week Spanish course at the Universidad Torcuato di Tella, which also includes English-language lectures on Argentine history and culture.

Outside of class, you can work on your Spanish.

In Buenos Aires, people are now going to bars to learn Spanish. Conversation clubs are a great way to meet people and get out of your comfort zone while you learn Spanish and check out the nightlife. Most evenings of the week, there is one.

In the Mate Conversation Club, for example, native speakers and people learning the language get together to talk while drinking mate (an Argentine infusion). You could also have an asado (a barbecue) or even a few drinks!

Another conversation club in the capital of Argentina, Mundolingo, has a similar idea and meets at different bars in the city every day. Just so you know, there are 7,000 bars and restaurants in Buenos Aires.

Spanglish, on the other hand, is like speed dating for learning a language. You are paired up with someone who speaks Spanish as their first language. You take turns speaking in English and Spanish, and then you switch conversation partners.

Here are some words to help you get going: bajón (drunk snacks), boliche (nightclub), bondi or colectivo (bus), morfi (food).

Give up Netflix for art, movies, books, and Spanish TV.

It can be tempting to turn your bedroom into a bunker where you only speak English and watch Friends while eating your favorite snacks from home, but a little Spanish in the evening never hurt anyone.

There are a lot of Spanish series and telenovelas that you can watch for free on YouTube. You could also just watch Spanish TV and see how much you learn.

If you’re interested, Argentine movies have been getting a lot of attention lately, and a few actors and directors have won awards for their work. The first Latin American movies to win an Academy Award were The Official Story in 1985 and The Secret in Their Eyes in 2009. Both of these movies are worth seeing. Wild Tales (2014), a collection of six short films about violence and revenge, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

You should also read in Spanish. Depending on how much you know, you could start with a picture book for kids or BBC Mundo. If you feel really confident, you could try reading Julio Cortazar’s stream-of-consciousness novel Hopscotch or Jorge Luis Borges’s collection of short stories Ficciones.

Make good use of technology and your electronic gadgets.

It doesn’t help to live with a Spanish-speaking host family if your phone and laptop are in English.

Changing the language on your social media sites and devices is a great way to learn a new language. It’s good practice and will get you used to using everyday words.

If you’ve set your phone to Spanish, you should download Readlang, a great language-learning app that lets you make flashcards out of words you don’t know while you’re surfing the web so you can practice them later.

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