Immersion: travelling to a Spanish speaking country

Do you want get straight in the middle of the action? Go where language is happening.

When it comes to learning a new language many people choose the nearest language school or take online classes. However, another interesting option is to travel to the actual place where people speak that foreign language, to dive into the deep oceans of culture and identity that are represented by that language that you want to learn.

Once you have taken the decision to travel and leave your daily life standing by, you will have to choose your destination. And you better choose wisely, because your decision will have a great impact on the way you learn this new language. You should take into account that Spanish differs significantly from one country to another. There are lexical differences (the words that they use) and, in some cases, grammatical differences (word order). Culture is another factor that varies according to the location; in some Spanish speaking countries you will have less difficulty to engage with the people than in others. You should also consider the cost of living in each country and whether you will have the opportunity to take part in a productive activity or hold a job such as teaching your own language. It is also important to bear in mind that you won’t only learn a new language, but also live an active life in a foreign country. So, you will have to decide whether you prefer to visit a densely crowded modern city, a colonial looking old town, a beach city or a far away mountain village. Whichever is the case, you will need to think what you want to achieve, which was your motivation when you first though about travelling and learning a new language?

You will have to set up your goals long before you buy your plane ticket. In most cases, people need to learn Spanish for professional reasons. Nowadays Spanish is an important language in the job market, and job seekers are constantly polishing their communicative skills in order to be able to thrive in their career. Many people also look for a new language as a way to discover a new world. Being able to think reality in terms of a different language will broaden your mind and give you a tool to compare different cultural paradigms. Finally, it is important that you know that many academic institutions in the Spanish speaking world offer scholarships and educative offers to foreigners. Also, you will have the chance to obtain a certificate in Spanish language, which can be of great value for you in the future.

My list of recommendations will include the countries that, in my own personal opinion, are to be considered if you want to make the best of your learning experience. This week, we’ll be talking about Spain. Remember to let me know if you have a certain country in your mind.

Spain

sevilla-streetSpanish language is often divided into two major variants which are based according to a mainly geographical criterion. Thus, we can classify Spanish into Spanish from Europe (Spain) or Castilian and Latin American Spanish. This classification might be misleading and can induce you to think or assume ideas about Spanish that are not necessarily true; but we deal with this more in deep in this article.

So, yes, one of the many variants of Spanish is to be found in Spain of course; the cradle where all the other variants of Spanish stem from and the place of birth of the great authors that contributed to shape the written Spanish linguistic corpus as it is today. It is a country of rich culture full of medieval landscapes and vibrant modern cities, a country with an immense passion and devotion to teaching, exploring and transmitting their language.

Why would I want to learn this variant? What is particular to Spanish from Spain?

Well, first of all, Spain is the first alternative to be considered by Europeans when they decide to go for an immersion programme. The advantages are clear: they get to learn the Spanish variant spoken in the European Union and also they benefit from free movement and residence, which is a clear advantage if you’re looking for a job or seeking to enrol in a language learning institution.

Apart from that, Spain also offers great opportunities for students worldwide. Spain has numerous language learning centres spread all around the country, in fact, a quick google search will suggest no less than fifty different places to learn Spanish. Moreover, given this high competition and the large amount of students that come every year to Spain, language schools offer very competitive prices and an amazing diversity of courses and programmes.

If you decide to learn this variant, take into account that its peculiarities in grammar and vocabulary are Spain specific, meaning that there’s little chance you find these features in a language community in Latin America. In order to make a comparison, we could say that the differences in vocabulary are pretty much the differences you would find between US English and UK English. If you travel to Latin America after having acquired a proficient level of Spanish in Spain, you might find slight differences in word meanings, but it’s nothing to worry about really, all you’ll have to do is add these new words to your lexical repertoire and voilà, now you have adapted your vocabulary to Latin America. As regards grammar, however, the most particular feature is its conjugation, let’s begin explaining it, shall we?

Vosotros vs Ustedes

First of all, Castilian makes use of third person plural pronoun Vosotros when the people you are addressing to are of a similar status or close to you, for example, you have the same age, you are friends, etc. So, how is the conjugation with Vosotros different from that of Ustedes used in Latin America?

Let’s take the three most common regular verbs in Spanish: amar, comer, partir. As may already know, the infinitive of these verbs is made by adding the suffixies -ar, -er, -ir to the verb stems am-, com-, part-. In order to obtain, let’s say, the present simple tense of these verbs, we would need to add the suffixes -áis, -éis, -ís respectively thus transforming these verbs into:

Vosotros amáis → you all love

Vosotros coméis → you all eat

Vosotros partís → you all depart

These ending are going to repeat over and over again in the different tenses and it will take a little bit of practice to acquire the skill the use Vosotros naturally if you were accustomed to using Ustedes only.

spain-photo
Photo from street of Madrid

Accent

But perhaps the most noticeable difference between Latin American Spanish and Castilian in pronunciation. Any Spanish variant can be readily understood even in the most faraway places of the Hispanic world, but small differences in pronunciation play a significant role in identifying speakers as belonging from one language community or the other. And although for the most part, pronunciation among Spanish variants remains the same, there’s a little feature of Castilian pronunciation you might have heard about: Seseo.

In Spain, speakers pronounce letter c as th when it is followed by either e or i. So, the word gracias will sound something like grathyas in Spain. This particular consonant is known in phonetics and phonology as voiceless dental fricative and has been replaced by other sounds in most of Spanish speaking countries in Latin America. Regardless of the position or the adjacent vowels, letter z is also pronounced as a voiceless dental fricative th sound, thus creating a distinction in some words, for example: rosas and rozas.

The World's Biggest Tomato Fight At Tomatina Festival 2013...BUNOL, SPAIN - AUGUST 28: Two Revellers kiss each other covered in tomato pulp while participating the annual Tomatina festival on August 28, 2013 in Bunol, Spain. An estimated 20,000 people threw 130 tons of ripe tomatoes in the world's biggest tomato fight held annually in this Spanish Mediterranean town. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Tomato fight at Tomatina Festival 2013

A final thought on Spain is that it’s a beautiful country full of interesting and rewarding activities. You can choose to visit many small towns spread all over the country where time moves slowly or a vibrant city where attraction are open non-stop and people enjoy a fast pace of life. Among the many traditional festivities, you may enjoy visiting Valencia, a very prominent port town loaded with people during the August tomato throwing festival in Bunol, known as tomatina. If you like having a good time and love beach landscapes, consider spending a week in the Canary Islands or Ibiza. Also, Spain will give you more options than other European countries if you are travelling with a short budget. Take your time, enjoy.

 

Have you ever visited Spain? What was your experience like? Is there any other country you are planning to visit? Let me know in the comments section.

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