Before moving to Spain to teach English, I had been following a couple language learning blogs. Most of them had some pretty convincing posts about learning a new language in a jiffy. Therefore, with 9 months in Spain and a lot of determination, I thought learning Spanish would be easy!
What I forgot, though, is that Spanish is my first foreign language, and that language learning, like anything else, comes with a learning curve.
I tend to be quiet and introverted, and adding the language barrier did not help. My habit of avoiding contact was exacerbated to the point where I just stopped talking to people altogether! Tip: you can't learn a new language if you don't speak it!
People love it when foreigners try to speak their language! What made it easier for me was to approach foreigners one-on-one. It can be overwhelming to introduce yourself to a group of people who don't speak your language, and having a single conversation is more relaxing. Go to an empty restaurant and sit at the bar, look for a Facebook group for people interested in a language exchange, or even look on Tinder!
2. Setting goals in stone
After reading so many blogs, I figured it should be easy to learn a new language in a few months! I signed up for classes and set my goals: a new level of fluency every month. This plan worked for one month, and then I burned out. Then I got sick. Then it was spring break. Then I was too stressed. All of a sudden, I'd lost an entire month and my whole 3-month plan was down the toilet!
Fluency in 3 months was a crazy goal for my first foreign language. While it's not a bad goal, it wasn't the goal for me, and I needed to change it in order to succeed. If your first goal doesn't work, don't be afraid to change it to a more manageable one - all that matters is that you get it done.
3. Spending my time with other Americans
Because I went to Spain to teach English, I spent my first two weeks in the country surrounded by other Americans in my positions. Therefore, it was only natural that all my friends were Americans, and we spent all our time talking about our experiences in English.
My Spanish improved drastically within weeks when I stopped spending time with my American friends and started looking for Spanish friends. While you don't need to completely end any friendships, be aware that even if you and your friends plan to speak your target language, it's only natural that you'll default to your native language. Immersion doesn't mean just being in the country - you need to talk to its people, too.
While it's not necessary, there's nothing better than immersion if you're trying to learn a new language. Just remember to keep your goal in mind, allow yourself to change it if it doesn't work for you, and don't be afraid to talk!