The one question I get asked a lot by people I’ve just met is “Was it difficult for you to learn the language, when you first moved to Spain?”. The honest answer is yes, it was very hard. It took me two years just to get up the confidence to start a chit-chat conversation with someone. Up until that point I’d been getting by on only talking when I had to; in answer to a question, or to ask something essential.
Even though I am now able to speak the language fluently, I still feel I have to work harder than most of my classmates to achieve the level of fluidity when writing essays and delivering presentations. I feel that I have an obligation to improve my Spanish even now, as I will be using it throughout my university life and career as a vet.
For those of you in the same boat, here are a few pieces of advice for lifting the language barrier.
- Daily use. Try to use the language on a daily basis and expand it by introducing new words to your vocabulary list. Within the last year, I’ve got myself into the daily routine of looking up a new word and then trying to use it throughout the day.
- Connector research. Connector use in essays is something that improves the fluidity of your writing dramatically. Unfortunately most language learning courses don’t seem to focus on this very much, so I would suggest teaching yourself a few connectors in your free time and attempt to apply them in your written work.
- Synonyms. If your vocabulary list is not the largest, you can often find yourself repeating the same words over and over again, through lack of a similar term. Invest in a dictionary of synonyms to help improve this aspect of your work. For those of you who are learning Spanish, I would suggest the VOX “Diccionario De Sinónimos” by Samuel Gili Gaya, seventh edition. I have been using this book for years and love it, as the layout is clear and simple.
- Leave no stone unturned. When you’re reading the teacher’s handouts make sure you understand every word. You should be able to translate or give the definition of every word on the page. Keep a dictionary with you when you study, so that you can look up new vocabulary. This tip has a dual function, as the new terms you learn could possibly help you in the exam with written explanations.
- Repetition. Every time you get an essay, exam or some form of corrected work back from the professor, you should consider carefully his/her corrections. You should note down any grammatical or spelling errors and then repeat them over and over again on a piece of paper. This is a a very old fashioned method of learning, but it works. As long as you study your mistakes closely, it is very unlikely that you will make the same error again.
- Ask the natives. This may be be an obvious one, but there’s no better help than that of your friends. Even if your essay is grammatically correct, a native speaker might be able to recommend a better way of phrasing a particular sentence, that sounds more natural.
I hope these tips have helped a few of you. Nowadays the ability to speak a second language is much sought out and you’re only helping yourself by improving your language skills.