Nearing the end of my degree and approaching the reality of a formidably competitive graduate market, learning a new language and expanding my cultural understanding seemed like a valuable way to spend the summer. Having enjoyed German at school and continued with French until my second year at Edinburgh, I decided to focus on the European language I’d long sworn I would next attempt – Spanish. So in July, I embarked on a month’s worth of immersive language lessons, with the realistic expectation of conversational fluency and a finer appreciation of both Gaudi and paella.
Before leaving, I had typical worries about negotiating a new city and making friends but a few days in I felt very settled. Arriving a couple of days before starting my course meant I had time to scope out the neighborhood and get my bearings. The language school I enrolled in also offered a great programme of events to learn more about local history and culture, as well as to better get to know your classmates. Whilst the lessons were taught in a loose English to Spanish manner, I was the only native English speaker in my group, with others from Germany, France, Romania, Italy, Russia and Israel. Learning a shared new language alongside people with such varied backgrounds made for some really interesting conversations as we compared similarities and differences between them all.
With what initially appeared to be a lacking amount of forethought I had chosen Barcelona as my destination for the trip – disregarding the fact that most locals speak the regional language of Catalan over Spanish. Luckily, the language school I was at had experience of teaching Spanish all over Spain and South America, so teachers were great at highlighting examples of divergences between common Spanish and Catalan words, which made it slightly easier to decode street signs. Whilst Catalan is usually used in most professional settings and spoken as a first language by many families at home, I quickly managed to find plenty of new Spanish conversation partners – from my new best friend, the owner of greengrocers below our apartment, to an elderly but hugely enthustiastic taxi driver, to whom, when asked how long I was staying in Spain, I inadvertently replied ‘a table’! (Newly acquired language skills hindered by Friday night sangria, the Spanish word ‘mesa’ became muddled with the word for ‘month’ – ‘mes’ – much to his amusement and my delayed confusion).
Occasional embarrassment aside, I found Barcelona to be incredibly friendly and a city made only richer by its own pluralistic linguistic heritage. It felt great to really get to know it, to a much greater depth than you would on a week’s holiday, and to be able to communicate with those around me. The experience has certainly confirmed my desire to live abroad in the future and, whilst a month is a little optimistic a timeframe to fully conquer a new language, I hope to continue to improve on my Spanish now I’ve returned!