Learning a new language while you’re abroad

Picture: me working with a Brazilian local who couldn’t speak any English in Rio Das Ostras.

I’ve always wanted to learn another language. I usually tend to get motivated when I go overseas and then struggle to communicate with the locals…when this happens, I come back home with this burning desire to learn the language of the place that I just visited. 

When I visited China, I craved to learn the language more and to live there (yes I did classes).

When I lived in Italy for 2 months, I started practising Italian on Duo Lingo…

When I visited Germany, I started learning German as well…

And then later, I decided to go to South America and Spain (as well as other European countries and South East Asia).

I don’t know the exact reason why I became so motivated to learn Spanish but I was. Without question, it’s the language which I’ve invested the most time and energy into learning and I must say, I’m SO glad I did. At the time, it didn’t seem like learning the basic things and paying for a class was an investment at all which was worth it but now, when I’ve seen the long-term effect it’s had on me, and my personal development, it’s so clear that the money and time I spent in learning the language has reaped some fantastic rewards, truly enhanced my travel experience and even allowed me to surprise myself in many ways.

How did everything all begin?

I still remember the day where I decided to give up Italian and start learning Spanish…

When I told this guy about my plans to travel the world and that I was studying Italian, I remember him saying to me:

“Learn Spanish instead of Italian. It’s so much more useful. They speak it in so many more countries. Italian is only used in Italy.”

When he said those words, I couldn’t help but agree…and in a split second, I decided to start learning Spanish. It made perfect sense ~ I started appreciating the Latino culture and having this desire to travel there and I knew that Spanish was spoken in most South American countries and Spain (with strong variations in the language of course).

I don’t remember exactly how I started learning (maybe on Duo Lingo as well) but I do remember a few months before I decided to travel, I started thinking about learning the language seriously and toying with the idea of going to Spanish language classes.

But there was one problem for me ~ I was working so hard to save money for the trip and the prices of the classes in Australia were so expensive! I still remember asking my friend about whether or not I should bother ‘wasting’ money on a language course. She tried convincing me to learn 2 weeks before my trip but something was telling me to enroll in this class earlier.

Before I knew it, I was attending Spanish classes every week for two months, using the Memrise App and studying diligently every day to reinforce my learning. I also started listening only to Spanish/Latino music and watching Spanish television series to enhance my learning.

 

What benefits has it given me?

I didn’t use my Spanish while I was in South East Asia but I actually met many Spanish speakers during my travels where I practiced a little bit with them. There were definitely times where I didn’t practice or study my Spanish at all but now that I’m in South America, everything has come back to me and I’ve definitely been placed in many situations where I’m forced to speak Spanish.

After learning the fundamental basics in Australia and practising with local Spanish speakers, I’m now able to say some basic sentences in Spanish and have basic conversations with locals in Colombia. I’m always so surprised when I’m with people who don’t know any Spanish at all or have just started learning in Colombia when they tell me: “You’re Spanish is really good” …because I know it’s not.

But at least I can communicate the fundamental things. It definitely helps me save time and allows me to interact with the locals without the awkward lack of understanding which comes from the strong language barriers when you travel.

But the biggest surprise?

When I went to Brazil and learnt Portuguese as well. I couldn’t believe how much learning Spanish benefited me in learning Portuguese (because there are many similar words). I wasn’t even planning on learning Portuguese but after being there for 2.5 months and spending a lot of time with locals and foreigners which spoke Portuguese, it was kind of an inevitable thing.

That’s when I realised that investing in Spanish classes was one of the best ideas I had before coming to travel because it really helped me learn Portuguese as well and truly enhanced my experience in Brazil.

Now that I can speak (VERY) basic Portuguese and Spanish…I couldn’t be more proud of myself!

I’m particularly really proud that I managed to learn Portuguese because I went into Brazil with ZERO knowledge or intention of learning Portuguese. By the second month, I was able to have really basic conversations with the locals and was able to communicate the important stuff.

It’s just such a nice thing to be able to really truly develop and learn something.

I’m so happy and proud of myself because never in my life would I have anticipated that I’d pick up either of these languages (especially Portuguese).

I never would have pictured myself in the past to be able to have conversations with people in either of these languages.

It’s such an amazing feeling.

*Side note: I was so shocked at how much Google Translate has helped me learn both languages. It’s probably one of the greatest inventions in the world which has truly broken down the borders to traveling (it also probably helps that I’ve interacted with people that only speak Portuguese or Spanish so I have no choice but to communicate in their local tongue).

The moral of the story – if you’re going to South America (or Spain)…invest in classes to learn basic Spanish.

Trust me, you will be forever thankful to yourself!

2 thoughts on “Learning a new language while you’re abroad

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