Spanish has been such a struggle for me coming to Uruguay. It has really been the biggest hurdle I have had to cross since I have been here; at the beginning of my trip I felt myself pulling away and letting my poor language skills hold me back a lot. I had a lot of fear and anxiety about speaking Spanish and I felt really embarrassed that I didn’t know more. Before I arrived I hadn’t taken a Spanish class in almost a year and language learning has always been really difficult for me, my Spanish was RUSTY. The main reason I wanted to study abroad in Latin America though, was to improve my Spanish and this fear and anxiety was holding me back from doing that! Learning a language is never going to be easy, but people do it every day. There are millions of ways improve but none of them involve hiding away and letting your fear win, be brave!
There was a massive learning curve when I arrived because I made the mistake of not doing much research on the type of Spanish they speak in this region of the world. Latin America is so diverse that nearly every country has distinct relationships to the Spanish language. Depending on where you go the accent, vocabulary and conjugations can be super different often because of the language of the indigenous populations that exist in that region. One example of this is Chile’s Spanish, which is distinctly unique because of the strong influences of Mapuche and Aymara people there. However, in most of Argentina and Uruguay they use Rioplatense Spanish which employs a different conjugation for “tu” or “you” called “vos”. This was quite a challenge for me! They also pronounce their double l’s with a “sh” sound which is common in many other places but was not the Spanish that I was taught in school.
When I first arrived it was impossible to understand anything anyone was saying to me because I had never heard this dialect. After I learned about the unique features of the spanish here, I started to understand so much more. I used to be so frustrated by the use of vos and the accent here, but now I think its fascinating and I grown to love the way that one language can be so distinctly different from place to place. Now that I have been here for 4 months I catch myself understanding so much and my vocabulary has increased vastly. I definitely still struggle with speaking. I can have entry level conversations which allows me to get by enough to travel alone but at a certain point I can’t keep up with more complex conversations.
I’ve done many things to try to help myself learn but I’ve definitely fallen off the study routine I had when I first arrived. I have a deep disdain for studying so I put myself into situations I would be forced to learn, listening is such an important and crucial step in language learning. I took all of my classes in Spanish and lived with a local family who barely spoke any English and tried to spend as much time around native speakers as I could.
Most of the other international students, as well as many of my teachers, friends and people back at Drexel thought I was being crazy for taking all my classes in Spanish. At the beginning I thought I was being crazy as well and cursed myself for willingly making my life more difficult. Now though, I don’t regret anything at all and I would recommend that anyone who wants to learn a languages immerse themself as much as possible even though its super scary. Being completely surrounded by the language helps a ton as well. Whenever I go walking somewhere or I’m visiting a new place there usually graffiti and I love to look up what the graffiti means. Everything is language practice when you’re living abroad!
Going on trips by myself also helped me a ton! I’ve found that when I’m in a larger group of people, specifically with people who speak better Spanish than me it can be really easy to just not practice. That’s a pattern I definitely fell into but I took a solo trip to Buenos Aires and not only did I get to talk more and listen more than I would have if I was in a group but it allowed me to trust in my abilities and really helped with my confidence.
My goal now is to continue learning and exploring the Spanish language when I return home and eventually move to South America to actually commit to learning the language. My entire life I have dreaded language learning, it always made me feel stupid and challenged me in ways that I never wanted to experience. Its super humbling to learn a new language but language is such an important part of the world and cultural understanding.