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Preparing Myself for a Full-on Language Immersion Experience


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by Ariel Pearl-Butler, Abbey Road Student, Spain 2014

As the trip to Spain draws nearer, I have begun to expose myself to Spanish on a day-to-day basis. This is, of course, in addition to my Spanish language classes that I have every day, but I really do think that one of the most important parts of learning a language is the act of actually speaking it.

I live near San Francisco, California, which has a large Spanish-speaking population, so it’s very easy to find Mexican restaurants in my neighborhood. Many of the people working there speak Spanish; so logically, it would seem very easy to just go up to the cash register and start speaking in Spanish, right? After several attempts at ordering in Spanish and surprised looks from the employees, I’ve discovered that it is much more difficult than expected. On the one hand, I know how to order in Spanish and could do it easily in a classroom setting. On the other, I feel as if many employees don’t expect an American, who doesn’t look like they have any Latino roots, to speak Spanish, when it is rare to find English-speaking people ordering in Spanish.

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I received another opportunity to speak in Spanish when my father needed me to translate a message on the phone to the mother of his student who did not speak English. I was able to get through around three pre-rehearsed sentences before the woman gave the phone to her English-speaking daughter. Although the conversation was not as long as I had hoped, I was able to step out of my comfort zone just a little.

When we travel to Spain this summer as a group, I believe we will face two distinct challenges. The first challenge will be to avoid using English within the group. No matter how well the group leaders enforce the no English policy, we will still end up speaking a small amount of English to each other, even unintentionally. The second challenge we will face is the fact that many people in Spain speak both Spanish and English. Instead of speaking to us in Spanish, once they realize we are American, they will, more often than not, begin to speak to us in English. Therefore, what’s most important is how we respond to the English.

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