What language immersion is really like (and what I wish I was told)

Img 0566

As a college Spanish major, I completed all of my introductory and intermediate courses with flying colors. I’ve mastered grammar charts, sentence structures, and basic writing skills. I can understand and respond to my professors and classmates with ease and am ready for the next step in my language journey. In May 2022, I found myself in Antigua, Guatemala in a Spanish language immersion experience. I have always been captivated by the idea of being able to communicate with those vastly different from me and now was the perfect time to test my classroom skills in the real-world. What I am going to outline in this blog is not a fairy tale trip abroad, but the things I wish I was told by being fully immersed in the language.

1. Pay attention to your surroundings.

The language immersion experience is so much more than practicing your basic conversational skills. When you pay attention to what is going on around you, your understanding of the language will go beyond what you could ever learn in a textbook. For example, when walking down a city street, notice the road, the vehicles on the road, the shops, the people working the shops, the clothing they are wearing, etc. When you begin to understand the people and how they think, interact, and utilize the tools around them, you will have a deeper understanding of the language. 

Spanish Language Immersion

2. You are a guest in another country. Don’t expect everything to be the same. 

When abroad, I found that first world services I am accustomed to change depending on where you are in the world. Things like toilets, showers, garbage services, postal systems, and telephone poles will likely function or appear differently than they do in the United States. When you are faced with something unlike an experience you have had before, make sure you understand that this does not make a country/culture weird, just different and exciting. 

Img 0251 Scaled E1660229534257

3. You will be tired. 

During language immersion, everything that once came naturally to you now takes a second thought. Listening to a native speaker requires meticulous attention and responding in a way that someone else will understand is challenging. Your days will feel longer and you will feel mentally drained. This is a sign that you’re learning and your hard work is paying off! 

Lago Atitlan

4. Give yourself grace. 

You will make mistakes, you will feel frustrated, and you will feel lost or confused much of the time. These are things that are bound to happen. Allow yourself to lean into the discomfort and make the most out of every situation. And when you make a funny mistake, it’s okay to laugh. There is no need to beat yourself up for trying your best.

Volcan Pacaya

What was most important, I realized, was the relationships I developed. Not only is Guatemala is beautiful country, the people are so kind and unforgettable. It became clear to me why I was learning Spanish – to communicate and connect with people.

Spanish Immersion In Antiguage