By Kiersten B., Auxiliar de Conversación in Murcia 19/20.
“I would like to practice my English with you.” That is the comment you may receive as an English speaker in a Spanish-speaking country. I got it a lot when I first moved to Spain. I was going to teach English and learn Spanish. The teacher in me was excited to help people speak English.
Sometimes, at the end of a long day, I would be so mentally exhausted from just learning the bureaucracy of a new country, that I would happily have an English conversation with a Spanish speaker, even if their English wasn’t perfect.
However, after the first week, I started to feel more comfortable in my environment. I needed to start balancing how much English I was using and how much Spanish I was learning.
For many Auxiliares who are coming to Spain to not just teach English and learn Spanish, you might find yourself with similar challenges of wanting to learn and speak Spanish, but using English more. Here are my tips to help you balance your English and Spanish when you come to Spain. In other words, my tips to teach English and learn Spanish.
1. Surround Yourself with More Spanish Speakers than English Speakers
This might be more challenging than it seems. Before I moved to Spain, I was already connected to many of the English-speaking Auxiliares. Through Facebook groups and orientation, I felt like I had friends before I had arrived.
Then, something peculiar happened. At the end of each day in my new Spanish life, how could it be that I was in a Spanish-speaking country but speaking more English than Spanish? I think expats from anywhere naturally gravitate to people who share their language, understand their cultural norms and cultural humor.
Here’s what you can do to work against this natural gravitational pull.
– Try to find a Spanish roommate. Depending on when you arrive, there will be many university students looking for housing, so this is a great opportunity to find someone.
– Socialize with the teachers you will be working with. Yes, at school you are required to speak only English to the students. However, while you are taking a break in the teacher’s lounge, you can start a conversation with a teacher who probably doesn’t know English.
– Frequently go to language exchanges and other community events. I have had great experiences going to CouchSurfing events in Cartagena.
2. Be Comfortable with being Uncomfortable
If you really want to improve your Spanish, you have to speak it. Even if you have an accent, or if you say something the wrong way, the most important thing is that you try. Luckily for all of us non-native Spanish-speakers, the españoles are very kind and welcoming people. So, if you go to the grocery store looking for soap and ask for “sopa” instead of “jabón,” they’ll happily point you in the right direction.
3. Find a Language Partner
You can easily find someone through a language exchange or just having an English conversation in public. When you find a language partner, make sure you add some structure to your meetings. When you go out for coffee or maybe some wine and tapas, have a theme or objective to your time together.
For example, maybe you agree to meet for an hour and spend 30 mins. talking in English and 30 mins. speaking in Spanish. Or maybe you meet every Monday for Spanish practice and then every Friday for English practice. This will help keep the balance so one person doesn’t spend too much time speaking in the language they don’t need to practice.
4. Have No English Times
This one will take a lot of self-discipline or just putting yourself in the right situation. Try to find designated times or days when you can only speak in Spanish. For example, you can say from 6 pm to 8 pm, you are only going to focus on Spanish. This may mean, watching a Spanish series, or listening to a Spanish podcast. This could also mean going to a movie theater and watching a movie in Spanish.
Whatever the case may be, try to avoid English as much as possible. In the city of Cartagena, they have free walking tours that are done completely in Spanish.
5. Stay Committed
If you are coming to Spain, just try to enjoy the experience of teaching, living in a new country or drinking all the wine you can, that’s great. However, if you are coming to also learn or improve your Spanish, make sure you make that your goal. One thing I did to help myself stay disciplined was to make it my daily goal to have at least one conversation in Spanish each day.
6. Take Lessons
The fastest way to improve is simply by taking lessons. There are many schools and institutes that offer lessons. This way you can go beyond the basics to not only learn the structure and the grammar, but the culture behind the language as well.
7. Surround Yourself with Even More Spanish
Yes, you are in a Spanish-speaking country where everything is in Spanish. Nevertheless, you can still take it a bit further by turning your phone into Spanish text or you can post Spanish words on your bathroom mirror so you see them every day.
Teaching English while learning Spanish can be a challenge. For 15 hours a week, you’ll be focusing on the English language as an Auxiliar. Along with this, you will have to train yourself to respond in English, even when students try to speak to you in Spanish.
Nevertheless, if you follow the previously mentioned steps and practice to bite your tongue every now and then, you’ll be able to gain language, cultural enlightenment, and fun from this experience. When you return home, you’ll not only be taking memories with you but also knowledge of a second language.