I’ve always maintained that to truly reach such dizzy heights of fluency it’s necessary to actually spend a considerable time living in the country where the language is spoken. In this blog we hear from Carol, one of our Speech Bubbles who has just returned from a study break in Spain last month. We also answer the question: “Can you achieve fluency without crossing borders?”
I started learning languages at secondary school, and continued study on into university and beyond. Personally, I felt like after several years of study I reached a plateau, a point where the progress seemed to almost grind to a halt. What was the solution to this? ERASMUS. Two years spent living and studying in Europe, after which I returned to Scotland fully tri-lingual.
Carol is one of our Speech Bubble students who has been studying Spanish with us for around three years. In October, Carol, alongside several other students, spent a week on an immersive Spanish language and culture course in the beautiful coastal town of Nerja, near Malaga.
So, tell us, what were the classes like?
Having done the online grammar test before I left for Spain. We then had a short one to one interview with a tutor on the first morning before being allocated to groups.
There were 10 of us in my group, and classes were from 9-12 each morning. We had the same tutor throughout. Gaële Lopez was excellent; a bubbly personality with a positive approach. I found the course content to be mostly on the right side of challenging. There was a lot of vocabulary and situations that I was already familiar with, however they were presented in a slightly different way which made us really think about what we were doing.
My ‘classroom’ had French doors out into the garden where breakout groups could take place and where there was a café set up for break times. It was beautiful.
Which activities did you take part in?
I hadn’t given this much thought before I went (I was too busy panicking!). Of course, the whole experience is about learning the language and learning about the culture of Spain, and a lot of the activities are included in the cost. I went to all of the activities scheduled for my group:
- A workshop on the life and works of Picasso
- A guided tour of Nerja
- An excursion to the mountain village of Frigilliana
- An evening tapas tour!
For all of the events only Spanish was spoken. The tutors were very clear about not using any other language so ordering tapas etc all had to be done in Spanish. Our first venue for the tapas night was Bar Redondo – I happened to be sitting close to the tutor for that activity, and heard her saying to one of the waiters that he was not to speak anything but Spanish to us. This is really great from a language and cultural point of view.
Tell us about where you stayed.
I was impressed by the accommodation. My second-floor bedroom was a twin room with ensuite, fridge and tiny balcony. It was very clean and it was nice to sit on the balcony and watch Spanish life go past. On the roof of the building, they have a sun terrace with tables and chairs should you want to study, sun loungers if you want to sunbathe, and a rooftop pool. I had chosen to arrange a transfer from Malaga airport to the school and a driver was waiting for me and took me direct to the accommodation.
Would you recommend a trip like this to others?
I would rate this highly. One of the things I noticed is that the staff – from the directors to the cleaning staff – had all been briefed to speak only Spanish to us. It was lovely to bump into one of the cleaners in the morning and have a conversation in Spanish, similarly with the lady who dispensed coffee in the breakfast room and at break times. I would absolutely recommend the school and the accommodation. The night before I left to travel to the school, I was so nervous that I would have given anything for my flight to be cancelled (!), but I knew that if I did it, I would feel a real sense of achievement and that proved to be the case. I plan to repeat my trip again very soon!
Embarking on a study trip to Spain is a transformative experience, offering a unique blend of academic enrichment and cultural immersion. Beyond language proficiency, students can gain firsthand insights into Spanish history, art, and cuisine. Interacting with locals fosters a deep understanding of the vibrant culture, creating memories that last a lifetime.
However, in an increasingly interconnected world, the pursuit of language fluency has now transcended geographical boundaries. The question of whether it’s possible to become fluent in a language without setting foot in the country where it is spoken is a topic that sparks debates among language enthusiasts.
It’s undeniable that modern technological advancements and globalisation have revolutionised language learning. Online platforms, language exchange programs, and virtual immersion experiences provide learners with unprecedented access to authentic language materials and native speakers. These resources allow individuals to immerse themselves in the language without leaving their home.
While visiting a country can undoubtedly enhance language acquisition by exposing learners to local dialects and cultural nuances, it would be wrong for me to say that it is a prerequisite for fluency. The key lies in consistent practice, exposure to diverse linguistic contexts, and utilising available technology. Virtual interactions with native speakers, engaging in language exchange communities, and consuming authentic media contribute significantly to language proficiency.
Ultimately, the journey to fluency is a personal one, and success depends on the learner’s dedication and approach. The world is a digital playground for language learners, offering limitless opportunities to become fluent without the need for a passport.
But no digital alternative can quite give you that same buzz you get with speaking the language “IRL” in-real-life… and you can’t deny that a week or two in the sunshine definitely has its advantages too!
I’m glad I’ve still got my passport… and I will most certainly be joining Carol and our other students on our next trip in 2025!
To find out more about the places mentioned in this blog:
Escuela de Idiomas Nerja: https://www.idnerja.com/es/
Bar Redondo https://www.facebook.com/redondobarnerja/