While I was abroad, I took all of my classes in Spanish. My home-stay family didn’t speak English, and all of my research was completed in Spanish. I was surrounded by Spanish every day. So when I came back to the United States, I felt pretty confident in my Spanish-speaking ability. Granted, I was far from fluent coming back to the US but I did feel like I could understand most things that I heard and I was able to get my point across in a conversation. I didn’t realize just how much daily practice I needed to keep my skills where they were. As the months have gone by, my confidence in my ability to speak Spanish has decreased. I felt slow in my Spanish recall. It took me a few seconds longer to understand what was said and to formulate a response. Any conversation I had in Spanish, it felt like I was always lagging a few seconds behind. It was a sad realization that my Spanish was slowly slipping away. I didn’t want to lose my Spanish, so I started looking for ways that I could keep practicing. Here are a few options that I found to help me keep practicing:
- Find a friend! One of my housemates is a Spanish major, so I’m really lucky. However, talk to your friends and see if any of them is learning or knows the language that you studied. Even if none of your friends knows the language, see if any of them wants to learn.
- Volunteer! I have volunteered at a free clinic at school, and we have a large Spanish-speaking community. I often will do some translating or just have some conversations with patients. It challenges me, and I learn a lot of vocabulary. There are a lot of different places that you can volunteer and work as a translator or as a tutor. Not only does this help you improve and practice language skills, but it also is giving back to the community.
- Read, Watch, and Listen! While this won’t necessarily help you practice speaking a language, it does keep you thinking in a language. Additionally, it can help improve vocab and grammar skills. While I was abroad and since I’ve come back, I have been watching either Spanish TV shows/movies or watching movies dubbed in Spanish. I will also have subtitles going at the same time. This helps me keep up when characters are speaking too quickly. Listening to music in another language is an excellent way to challenge yourself. Songs can be really quick. They can use slang and words that you don’t recognize. Try to listen to a song you like and pick out the lyrics. Or you can look up the lyrics and try to sing along.
- Talk to yourself! It might sound a little crazy, but by switching to thinking in another language, it helps improve language skills compared to trying to translate in your head. If you can change completely to thinking and talking to yourself in another language, it helps you to not switch back and forth between two languages once you get into a conversation. It will speed up a conversation and make it more natural. There are so many phrases in languages that don’t make sense when translated directly and false cognates can have drastically different meanings. It’s always better to try to get to a point where you are thinking in another language when you are speaking it. So practice just switching for a half hour or so at a time and only letting yourself think in another language or talk to yourself (it doesn’t have to be out loud). You really will see a difference the next time you have a conversation if you try this.
There are so many ways to keep practicing a language once you come back to the US. My best advice is to find a way that is fun for you. Don’t feel like you need to come back and go into a class to keep up a language. All you need to do is keep using it. One of the biggest struggles that I face when it comes to speaking in Spanish is my fear that I will mess up or that my Spanish will sound broken. I find it hard to force myself to speak Spanish when I have another choice, even though I love the language and I genuinely do want to become fluent. However, most people that I’ve met are encouraging and helpful. People are excited to see others learn their language so don’t be afraid of going out of your comfort zone.