Learning Spanish from scratch at uni

Learning Spanish from scratch at uni by mctraba

This article was written by Jess Mackenzie, published on 7th August 2014 and has been read 4625 times.

Jess Mackenzie is studying German and Spanish at Durham University. She spent her year abroad in Austria, Málaga and Salamanca, having learnt Spanish from scratch at university.

1. Why did you decide to learn a language ab initio?
Having studied French and German from the ages of 9 and 13 respectively, many people thought that dropping French and starting a new language at the age of 18 was an unusual decision to say the least. As many other people have said, for me it was the chance to start something new. I had never studied Spanish before in my life, but had visited Spain numerous times, and honestly the Spanish culture and lifestyle suits me down to a tee. It was most definitely a daunting decision: getting to A Level (or near enough) standard in a year, was something I never thought I would manage, but I did, and now with 3 years of Spanish learning and 6 months in Spain on my Year Abroad under my belt, I do not regret my decision at all!

2. How have you found the university teaching?
There is definitely a lot to cover in a very short space of time, and as I mention above, that prospect is a scary thought. My experience of ab initio Spanish has been so much fun. Yes, we have had to cover a lot of content, but in my first year in particular we played lots of games to break it up, and throughout my second year I surprised myself by how far I had come when I could debate and give opinions without too many issues. Of course, there are challenges, and there are times when you feel completely out of your depth, but you soon grow in confidence.

My favourite thing about my time studying ab initio at University was that our classes were solely for beginners (for my fourth year next year we will be streamed with post-A Level). For me, having never spoken a word of Spanish before, this was very reassuring. To know that there are people in the room who are just as confused as you really helps, and I can assure you making those silly mistakes that every beginner makes does wonders for ice-breaking! Alongside this, there is a real feeling of togetherness in a class, as not only do you see your classmates improving, but your own personal sense of satisfaction is amazing; it is one that I really do think you only get with a 'beginners’ language.

3. Tell us about your year abroad!
I spent the first 4 months of my Year Abroad in Austria to improve my post-A Level German, so it is more than safe to say that the idea of moving to Spain to complete two internships was terrifying – I had not spoken Spanish since the previous June, and even then I had only studied Spanish for two years. Nevertheless, I have managed it, and my Spanish has without a doubt improved massively. My office in Málaga was entirely Spanish-speaking as my boss did not speak any English, and while I made some fairly basic errors in my work during the first few weeks because I didn’t understand, I made a real effort to speak as much Spanish as possible, and by the end of my three months there I was impressed with myself as to how far I had come.

Then I started my second placement in Salamanca. While the improvement in Spanish was less pronounced – trust me, there was far less to improve than before! – I improved even further, and I am now infinitely more confident in my language ability. The first time a waiter only spoke to me in Spanish (any hint that you’re not Spanish and they will respond in English), and the first time a native-speaker asked me for directions, I felt I’d made it and for me that was proof that I could actually speak the language and appeared confident enough to no longer looked like a tourist!

4. Would you recommend learning a language ab initio?
I would absolutely recommend an ab initio language. While it is one of the most daunting and challenging decisions you can make, especially with the added anxieties of the Year Abroad, the sense of satisfaction you get from seeing your progression is amazing. Not only do you learn a life skill that will never leave you, you also have the opportunity to live in a different culture, see so many different things and meet so many people that you would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

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