So at the beginning of the year I took a leap and decided to move to Spain. New country; new language; new adventure. After four months of living in Spain, I can safely say I’ve already learnt a lot – both language-wise, and about myself in general.
I feel I need to preface this article with that fact that I am extremely lucky to have moved here with someone who already speaks the language fluently. Of course, we still had our struggles working out how the bureaucracy of Spain works – it’s a delight – but the growing pains of moving to and living in Spain, and having a language barrier, were greatly eased for me.
It allowed me start working on the things I came here to do: To immerse myself in language and culture, to eat lots of food, and to make new friends. Now I can firmly say I’m settled into my new rhythm of life. So I want to share a few things living in Spain, and Madrid in particular, has already taught me.
Learning a Language
Immersive learning: Breathing, thinking, eating, dreaming – everything – in your target language. I’m at the start of my immersive language learning, but I already swear by it. One reason for this move was to learn Spanish. By learn, I mean actually learn it well enough to use it everyday.
I had started learning Spanish causally about 2 years ago, using apps for language learning like Memrise, Duolingo, and language exchange apps like HelloTalk. But after meeting friends in Australia, who had moved there to learn English, I knew that I needed to do the same, and live in a Spain-speaking country.
There is a huge difference between learning another language in your own country, or any country that speaks your native language, and learning in a country that speaks your target language – especially if you choose to go through intensive lessons.
Immersive language learning is not guaranteed to teach you how to speak X language in X number of months. I believe that is determined by a number of factors that change from person to person. But I will say that if you want to get over that beginners small-talk, immersive learning is the way to go.
Learning in this way also allows you to see how the language and culture really connect. And without speaking the language, I don’t think I would have learnt the lessons Madrid has already taught me.
Enjoy Life At a Slower Pace
I normally do everything fast. I walk fast. I eat fast. I speak fast (or so I’ve been told). I mean, I even skip through videos to watch them faster. And this is because I am a Londoner, I am a product of London city.
However, the pace of life here in Spain is teaching me to take it down a notch. I think it all started with the Sobremesa, a Spanish custom when it comes to dinning out with your friends. You don’t ask for the bill as soon as you’ve finished eating and run off to continue doing whatever it was you were doing before. No, you take time at the end of your meal to sit with your friends, converse, and just relax. A few drinks and maybe a postre later… now you’re ready to ask for the bill.
This turns my normal one hour experience in a restaurant into a minimum of two hours! And you know what? I still have all the time I need to do everything else I had planned.
Shopping in London vs Shopping in Madrid
So I walk into a store in London, I haven’t even started looking around, and straight away I hear, “Hi, can I help you look for something?” Now let’s get on the imaginary plane and head 2 hours south to Madrid. I walk into the store and this is what I hear, “……”. Wait, have I actually been left alone to look around the store on my own?
Now I understand to some people this may seem rude, but I love it! When I’m shopping, I hate being bugged. I understand it’s the sales assistants’ job. I’ve been there and worked the role, so it’s nothing against anyone personally. I just prefer to be left to my own devices when wandering around the store.
I take this Spanish approach, which may seem to some people as “no customer service”, as a breath of fresh air. When I was working in retail, I didn’t want to be there. So to skip the false pleasantries, to just be honest and offer help when someones actually asks you, sign me up!
This attitude has taught me to be a little more honest and in some situations, unforgiving when I don’t really want to do something.
It’s OK to Look Silly Sometimes
I think it’s safe to say that I’m still a work-in-progress in this field. But I’m getting there. We are normally taught to be careful with words and say exactly what we mean. But when it comes to language learning, that’s just not going to work if you want to learn quickly.
Living in Spain and having to conduct basic daily functions – like asking to return something, ordering food and explaining my nut allergy, or having a conversation with a new friend – know that mistakes are going to, and have to, be made. And you know what, no-one cared; everyone knew exactly what I was trying to say, no-one got hurt, and I learnt how to express new things in the correct way.
To get used to a new language, a new culture and a new pace of life, we need to make mistakes in order to learn and grow. This is the piece of advice my partner’s dad has always given me when it comes to language learning, but I just had to live it, and get over that fear of feeling silly in order to really appreciate it.
¡Saludos desde Madrid!