It seems pretty obvious that going on an extended visit or actually moving to a new country would be a great way to learn a language. However, there is one drawback: tourism. Most people head to popular towns that tend to attract tourists and expatriates. It makes for a lively social life but also pretty much guarantees that many of your interactions will take place in English, even with locals. Sure, your bilingual waiter appreciates the effort you put into ordering a coffee with your elementary school Spanish; but if or when the order takes a turn for (heaven forbid) a different verb tense, it’s just easier to slip back into English.
There is a great article written on learning Spanish in Costa Rica, and all the suggestions are fantastic. I definitely recommend reading it. However, the author fails to mention the single best way to learn a language–“de la cuna o de la cama.” Considering that you are reading this article, it can be assumed you did not learn Spanish from la cuna (the cradle). That leaves you one option, la cama (the bed, or bedroom as we would say in English). Now, I’m not necessarily talking about a full-on, intimate relationship with someone you hardly know; make sure it’s someone who shares a mutual attraction. Dating is an excellent way to start. So go out and meet someone!
Even if you can’t understand 75% of what the person is saying at first, keep in mind that attraction can supersede language in the initial stages of almost any relationship. Practicing your skills (that would be language skills, by the way) on someone who doesn’t care about your poor sentence structure and grammar will increase your confidence in speaking. You will find that as your language develops, so does your relationship. It’s a win-win situation. Most of the time.
Of course, you have to keep in mind that situations like these are made infinitely more difficult by the fact that half of the couple is usually in the country temporarily. But look on the bright side-conversations about your future will increase your language proficiency in the future, conditional, even subjunctive tenses! In some cases you may even learn some choice swear words or insults. So really, what have you got to lose? Even if the relationship ends, you’ll have gotten something out of it; your former flame will stay forever in your mind and on your tongue (still referring to language skills, of course).
But what to do if you are married, seeing someone, under the age of 18, or morally averse to the entire concept of this article? Just remember that nothing counts when it happens out of the country, like those Vegas ads. Ok, I’m kidding. Believe it or not there is hope for you! While I wrote about the advantages of an intimate relationship with someone, developing personal, friendly relationships is also an option. Just put yourself out there. Have a regular place you go for coffee in the morning? Ask the server if they wouldn’t mind getting together to chat sometime about their favorite places in the city. If you are studying abroad, strike up a conversation with a local student in your class. Be proactive in maintaining these relationships and always jump at the opportunity to spend time with native speakers. While this one takes a little more work, you’ll find that you begin picking up the language in no time.
So that’s it-the one simple step to learning a language. Get yourself into a relationship, be it physical or friendly, and you’ll find that your language skills will improve drastically.
About the Author
Katelyn is a world travel addict who has lived in Spain and traveled through much of Central and South America. She currently leads trip for Global Works in Spain and is excited for her boyfriend to pick up the Spanish language when he moves to Argentina in November 2010. She hopes he doesn’t take any of this advice.