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Tips for Learning a Language

dolphinStudying a foreign language, while rarely getting the chance to speak or hear it, is a monumental challenge. And for many english speakers, who have been brought up secure in the fact that they may never need to speak in anything other than their native tongue, a second language can seem hopelessly out of reach.  Of course the best way to overcome these hurdles is to set yourself up in the country of your language of choice - and get stuck in.  Its probably wise to get some help off the ground with tapes (Michel Thomas is legendary) or local/internet classes first.

Even though I live in Spain - admittedly at the coast amidst a community with a diverse mix of Europeans - I can't say that I'm anywhere near fluent.  But I can converse, even be myself and have a laugh, in Spanish and can only hope that I am not making any accidental faux pas in the process. I can also read and understand the regional dialect as well. I'm proud to say I have lost my natural fear of languages, and only wish more of my fellow British ex-pats could say the same.

spanishclassMy improvements have come gradually.  I began to learn Spanish at a school in Antigua, Guatamala 15 years ago whilst travelling.  For a manageable fee I had my own tutor for 20 hours a week. A similar thing is available from La Union, amongst others, from $125 a week. (view details). Although over time things may have altered, back then, in Central and especially South America english was generally not spoken and you needed to communicate in Spanish to survive. Quito, in Equador, is another major centre of language schools.

Years later when I moved to Spain this experience was of course helpful, and whilst I have progressed it is not at the rate I would wish for, as I am not swamped in a typical spanish life.  Although I do get involved with school and village events and fiestas, I work from home and our friends are from a range of places, some of whom we speak to in english.  At home we have only spanish TV but I rarely have time to sit down and watch it!

So when I wanted to make a leap to the next level in the language I decided I had to get away from home and enrol in an intensive course in Madrid. I chose the Academia Contacto (view details). By staying in a spanish home for the duration I had nowhere to hide. By day I focused on study and debate and by night I was ensconced amidst the banter of family life. And being in Madrid meant that my time inbetween was easily filled with galleries, cafes and shops! All the while my confidence and ability improved.

dormirBut there is more than one way to skin a cat. A couple of girls on my course barely made it to the morning classes as they were juggling nightlife (which does not even start until after midnight!) with the school and possibly were coming out the better for it. Surely to make friends with the locals is the best approach. And after a few beers its amazing how well you can converse! If you prefer the idea of this less structured approach, and your own space, a reasonably priced central accommodation may be the answer - Madrid Cottage or Dormirdcine?

Alternatively if you need to learn from home have a look at this exchange website that put people in touch who can help each other progress. Babelan.

Other excellent language-boosting options are to become an au pair, get a native boy/girlfriend or get sent to jail!