I’m currently an undergraduate doing a traineeship with Entrelenguas. My life at the moment is one big Spanish immersion program – a challenge, to say the least! Having been a student of Spanish my whole life, starting right from the silly class games of secondary school before moving on to intense and impersonal Spanish linguistics lectures at university, it’s funny, and often poignant, to be able to watch other people on their own personal journey with castellano. While it’s often rather sobering to think about how many people speak Spanish in the UK compared to how many Spaniards speak English, here at the school, it’s a delight to be able to meet so many brave
linguists, ready to set their hand to the task of learning Spanish in Spain.
Studying a language is not like any other academic discipline; it’s effectively a requirement that you have to make a fool out of yourself in order to improve. And indeed, if you’re learning Spanish in Spain itself, what you’ve done in class doesn’t stop when you shut the door behind you: it follows you into the street, the greengrocers, the supermarket, the bar. Observing and engaging in these little daily interactions in castellano often causes me to reflect on my own experience as a Spanish student.
One thing I’ve realised, is that doing a class in Spanish is by no means the same as living a life in Spanish. In the safety of the classroom
environment, always propped up by the support and patience of your teacher, it’s easy to feel relatively comfortable in the language. It doesn’t matter whether you take 1 second or 10 to conjugate estar in the preterito indefinido, and every time you forget the gender of a noun an expert is right there waiting to put you on the right track. While nerves may take over when asked to express a personal opinion, you are safe in the knowledge that very little is at stake if you get something wrong.
Here, I look at different Spanish immersion program for adults and marvel at the confidence so many of them bring to the task. It’s not surprising that the progress they make in a week is palpable. They do 4 hours of class each weekday during their stay, and are often keen to bring what they’ve learned with their host family into the school, and vice versa. What I do hope most of them understand, is that it’s like a linguistic bootcamp; you’ll make a lot of progress, but unless you maintain that level of fitness it will go away.
This obviously isn’t a problem for expats here. Those learning Spanish at the language school take regular weekly classes which cannot help but be consolidated by the world around them. However, what I find is that for them they almost have the opposite problem: with the level of exposure they have to the language, their brains can have a sort of castellano overload, and particularly here, being surrounded by the idiosynchrasies of Andalusian accents and speech patterns, their confidence in the material learned in class begins to falter. However, they are learning so much unconsciously, and all too often their actual level supercedes their perception of it. True immersion is hard, but it pays off.
The concept of immersion during this Spanish immersion program is often missold. It’s often not as rewarding as you think it might be, especially when you realise that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. Spanish immersion programs are just that: programs, with a start and an end date. However, they are an excellent step forward in the right direction. How many people speak Spanish in classrooms but when it comes to being in Spain freak out when they realise it’s a whole other ballgame? Yet it’s exactly when you find yourself with no other option but to play the game that the real improvement and the real learning happens. Whatever point you’re at in your personal Spanish journey, Spanish immersion programs are a great way to combine the support of an educational environment and the real-life experience that comes from being in the country. Hats off to all the travellers who come in through our doors with their notebooks,
pens and ganas de aprender!