Thinking in Spanish

One of my main goals for studying abroad was to gain fluency and confidence in my Spanish speaking skills. I made a commitment to myself– talk in Spanish to everyone first. Alongside this was learning more about the local culture. Little did I know these two would feed off each other. 

During my time abroad, learning Spanish became more and more a breeze the longer and more frequently I used it. From my classrooms, home stay, and conversing with people on the streets and stores, I was able to eventually stop translating in my head. Instead I began to think in Spanish while speaking it. Writing also came more naturally, as my thoughts flowed onto the paper. It definitely helped having all my classes taught through Spanish. Furthermore, my listening skills were really pushed; as stated before, all my professors taught solely in the Spanish language. Trying to either speak, listen or write in Spanish (and probably any other "second" language) while translating back and forth in English makes the task more difficult and time consuming than needed. It will also leave you in the dust when trying to keep up with local students. At some point, your brain makes a transition into thinking smoothly in Spanish, until a word or phrase pops up that is unfamiliar. You are able to text casually with Spanish-speaking friends without switching back and forth between Google Translate and your messaging app. 

With the language came the culture. In Costa Rica, there are different words unique to the region that are significant in ways not present or different in other Spanish-speaking countries. This is similar to the various dialects of U.S. English depending on region, and even state. Some people in the South can distinguish an Alabaman accent from a Floridian. Although it may seem insignificant, being able to understand and use the official and colloquial language allowed further connection with the local culture and people. Having knowledge of polite words versus strong phrases aided with smooth communication no matter where I found myself. 

Being back in the U.S. is slightly depressing, but being back in Spanish class is very satisfying. Listening, writing, and speaking without translating, without saying "uhmm" every five words to think about how to say what I'm thinking in English really shows me how much I improved my skills within a semester-long immersion program. Without my time spent in Costa Rica, and many of my friends there, I'm not sure how I would've gained this confidence and ability with Spanish. 

Las Ruinas de Cartago, Costa Rica by April Vollmer