Hello! My name is Abena and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador. In 2019, I spent a semester in Santiago, Chile.
My semester abroad was full of Spanish. One of the requirements for my program was that you had to have already taken some semesters of Spanish. Although I had studied Spanish for several years in school, I still did not speak with a certain level of confidence. While abroad, I pushed myself to speak confidently and the global community welcomed me. All my courses were in Spanish and my host parents only spoke Spanish, so there were various ways to get more comfortable with the language. This was different from my usual college semesters, where I took at most one Spanish class.
In the following semester, I went from practicing and learning Spanish on a daily basis, to spending some hours a week engaging with the language through my coursework and class sessions. That being said, learning is not limited to school, and there are ways to retain your skills outside the classroom upon your return from abroad.
Here are my 3 tips to maintain your new language skills:
- Change your app(s) or (cell) phone language settings
I have an app on my phone that I set to Spanish. This allows me to continue developing my reading comprehension and also broaden my vocabulary. I also have friends who changed their phone settings altogether to a language other than English, so that’s another option. If there’s an app that you use frequently, that could be a good option. Consider starting small by changing one or a few apps, or go big and adjust your phone’s settings entirely.
- Speak with friends who also know the language
One of my majors was Spanish, so I was able to keep practicing my skills in the classroom. I also had friends who were Spanish majors that I could speak with upon my return. There was a point where one such friend and I decided that we would try only speaking Spanish with each other. We sent text and voice messages in Spanish, so we were able to practice both our written and oral language skills.
- Find non-academic opportunities to practice
I recently had an internship where I communicated with English and Spanish speakers through email, phone, and face-to-face interactions. Given my proficiency with Spanish, I spent more time reaching out to Spanish-speaking individuals. This was an experience I sought out on my own and it helped me keep up with the language. Think about ways you could do the same, whether that be through an internship, volunteer or shadowing experience, job, or other opportunity.
These are only a few suggestions, but I hope they are helpful. There are many avenues you can take to sustain your language skills, so feel free to try one (or all) of these tips, or find other ways that work best for you!