What is the best way to learn a new language? Everyone says “immersion” is the best method, and as someone who is living in, I can certainly attest to it. However, what does “immersion” really mean?
This question has struck me since I’ve gotten to Madrid. Being a larger and more international city, English is widely spoken where it wasn’t in Seville. From signs and ads to some of the television, it’s certainly here. As well as the usual, every person in service and everyone below about 25 or 30 speaks it. My entire host family, barring the two youngest kids are fluent as well. And to top it all off, my program here is made up of a number of undergrads that don’t speak much if any at all. I feel as if one could spend a semester here and get by speaking nothing but English. But that’s not why I’m here! I’m here to learn Spanish!
So what does “immersion” entail? Think about what you do on the day to day at home, and now imagine doing it in Spanish. That’s immersion. I would guess that on any given day, I pick up between 5 and 10 new words. This evening I learned from my host mom and sister respectively, alcachofa (artichoke) and Claro que si (Yes, of course).
I’ve also learned some Spanish by talking to Spaniards in English. Let me explain. I’m sure for my English readers out there, you’ve spoken with someone that doesn’t know too much English, and quite often, while they’re speaking they’ll use all the right words, but the order is off. The explanation is simple. Every language has its own grammar rules, and the Spanish ones are quite different from the English ones. So translating phrases or sentences can get a bit tricky. Let me give you an example:
“El país más mayor del mundo.” This phrase literally translates to “The country more older of the world,” but what it actually means is “The oldest country in the world.” Now, obviously the first translation is wrong, but if you hear phrases like it in English from native Spanish speakers, and understand why it makes sense to them, it can help you to understand the differences.
Another underrated method I’ve employed is watching tv and movies with Spanish subtitles. I still watch my tv and movies in English whenever possible, but I’ve flipped on the subtitles, and definitely learned a few things. My favorite one was learning the word “El Fantasma” (The ghost) after watching the Netflix comedy, The True Memoirs of an International Assassin.
Overall, I have to say I am a believer in the immersion method. It has worked pretty well for me, although I can certainly see how one could squander it. It would be easy to live with fellow English speakers and get around knowing next to no Spanish. My verdict: if you would like to learn a language, living in it is the best method, but you must pursue it. It won’t happen by itself.