South America

The Struggles and Successes of Learning Another Language

For those of you who are already learning another language, I am sure you know by now that it does not magically happen overnight. Learning a language takes time and a lot of practice. There are many struggles, but nothing that feels better than those small, but impactful moments of success.

If it is possible, the best way to start learning another language is immersion. Back in 2016, I decided to move to South America and could basically say, “Donde está el baño?” and “Gracias.” This was only going to get me so far. So before heading to my new home in Santiago, Chile, I booked a one month Spanish immersion program in Sucre, Bolivia and spent a total of six weeks learning Spanish and traveling the country. And it was the best decision I ever made. It threw me into the Spanish language and forced me to communicate with my teachers and host family using new language. This experience gave me the base of the language. These types of programs are not only limited to Sucre. There are several different language schools and programs in various countries, giving you the opportunity to travel and learn where you want.

When I got to Santiago, Chile I quickly learned that the slow-paced, clear and annunciated Bolivian Spanish was pretty different from the quick, chopped and slang-heavy version of Spanish in Chile. Different countries have different dialects and to ultimately master a language, it is best to expose yourself to all types of speakers. When I first arrived in Santiago, I couldn’t understand anyone. It took me a while to get used to the new accent, but having a base in Bolivia helped me a lot.

After being in Santiago for a while, I began to learn new words, grammar and develop my listening and speaking skills. I spent a lot of time with other foreigners, but still picked up some Spanish along the way. Just when I thought I was doing o.k., I met my (now) Chilean boyfriend and began a job where I was the only foreigner. This introduced an entirely new struggle: groups. Speaking another language amongst a group of natives can be a confusing and frustrating experience. Nothing feels more awkward than not understanding why everyone is laughing at a joke or feeling too slow to contribute any commentary to a conversation. Constantly being the only foreigner in a group or natives has helped my Spanish tremendously, even though it has also made me feel very uncomfortable in some situations.

I think back and can remember not wanting to go to parties or barbecues purely because I felt anxious when thinking about the potential social dynamic and dreading the thought of possibly coming across as quiet or unfriendly. This was a new feeling for me and I wasn’t sure how to take it. These situations take a while to master and I’m still learning how to contribute and feel part of the group, but I believe exposing yourself to these experiences will ultimately better you as a person. I feel proud that I can go out on double dates and  follow and contribute to a work meeting entirely in Spanish. This is something I never dreamed of doing two years ago when I moved to South America.

Like many others, I am still in the process of learning another language and I don’t see 100 percent fluency happening by next week. But step by step, I will get there and so will anyone else who puts in the time, energy and perseverance.

Stay posted for upcoming tips & tricks of learning a language.

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12 thoughts on “The Struggles and Successes of Learning Another Language”

  1. Amazing. I’m going to be moving abroad in August and am both worried and excited by the prospect of learning a language. I mean… what if I need to speak to the local pharmacist and have nooooooo idea what to say 😂 I’m looking forward to the challenge though! However, do you think I can get by without paying for an immersion programme? And whoop for your Spanish 🙌🏼

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    1. Ohh sounds exciting! Where are you moving? I don’t think it is completely necessary to do an immersion program – I just found it helpful to develop a base in the language. I think it is a good idea to do a little self-study before coming though so you can initially get around. And then you will start to pick it up quickly once you get to your new country and are exposed to the language and people!

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      1. Thanks for your advice! 🙂 I tried checking out YouTube videos but I’ve not found those very helpful. I’m going to be going to Indonesia (West Java), so thought knowing a bit may be useful, though it’s completely unlike anything I’ve seen 😂

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  2. We had heard before we arrived in Chile that the locals speak very fast, which didn’t surprise us. I have often thought that they probably think the same of North Americans. I couldn’t believe just how fast they do speak. We had a great time in Chile.

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