Remember back to when you were a child and taking up a new hobby was somewhat of a weekly occurrence? Back in the day, it was weird if you didn’t spend every free moment playing at least two instruments and four different sports, not to mention being part of the choir, the debating team and the school musical.
Somehow, the older we get, the less we tend to try new things. I put this down to two factors- time and pride.
The first factor is kind of a given. Unfortunately being an adult involves a few more responsibilities than childhood, which means our busy lives don’t allow us much time for “hobbies”.
The second factor- pride- is a little more interesting. The older we get, the more we practice the things we are gifted at and put aside the things we aren’t so gifted with.For example, I have never had ANY hand-eye coordination as a kid. Growing up, my most dreaded times of the year were sports carnivals and selection days for team sports. As soon as I graduated from school, I was overjoyed that I would never have to face another team sport again. If we didn’t grow up mastering something as a child, it is so much harder for us to swallow our pride and learn to master it as an adult. The problem is we become resistant to getting out of our comfort zone to try new things.
This year, I decided that I needed to make a change in my life. There were so many things that I kept saying I wanted to do, but I never took any action towards making them happen. At the start of the year, I wrote a list of new things I wanted to challenge myself to try in 2017. Serendipitously, they all happened to begin with S, which given my love for alliteration, made me very happy.
These were the things I wrote down:
- Public Speaking
- Learning Spanish
- Salsa Dancing
In January, I went skiing in Switzerland for the first time. Every time I fell, I not only received physical bruises, but bruises to my pride when I watched 3-year-olds glide past me as I lay in a heap on the icy ground. It was grueling, but I loved it. I am now more determined than ever to become a good skier.
In April, I spoke at my very first travel conference. I have never felt more nervous in my entire life. Yet it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I had a full house of listeners and was showered with positive feedback by the end of it. It was incredible to get to share the skills I’ve gained over the past few years with others and realize that I actually have something to teach other people.
In June, I signed up for a month of Spanish classes in a little town in Spain called Salamanca. Learning a language has been something I have wanted to do for a very long time. I grew up in Australia where there isn’t much emphasis on learning a second language, even at school. It is obviously a blessing to have English as a first language given how widely the language is spoken, but I think this can also become a curse. It makes us lazy as we know we can go to most places and get by with speaking English. Next year, I am planning to travel to some Spanish-speaking countries and I really want to have some language basics down pat before I go. I figured the best way to learn Spanish was going to be by immersing myself in a country that speaks the language.
Why did I choose Salamanca?
Firstly, you might be wondering how I ended up spending a month in a random town called Salamanca. To be honest, I just googled “the best places to learn Spanish” and the name Salamanca kept popping up! It seemed unanimous that central Spain is the best place to learn the language as the region has the most universal dialect and accent. After a little more research into Salamanca itself, I found out it was located only two hours from Madrid and was home to one of the oldest universities in Europe. As soon as I saw how stunning it looked in photos I was sold!
Signing up for Spanish Classes
To sign up for my Spanish course, I found out all the information I needed to know and booked through the Salamanca University website. The University offers year-round Spanish courses for varying durations of time- you can sign up for as little as two weeks or as long as a year. You can then decide whether you want to do 3, 4 or 5 hours of Spanish classes per day. When you arrive at the University, you take a placement test to determine what level you are at and you are put into classes accordingly. Given my knowledge of Spanish was limited to what I had picked up from Narcos and Dora the Explorer, I was obviously in the very beginner classes.
What I didn’t realize until my first day was that all the classes were completely immersive, meaning the tutors taught everything to us in Spanish. Whilst this was an initial shock to the system, it didn’t take as long as I thought it would to adapt to. It was remarkable the way our tutors could communicate with us without using any English! I can now see the benefit of immersion as it is the quickest way to learn how to listen and understand a new language.
The experience was definitely worth it, and after a month of an intensive 80 hours of Spanish classes, I managed to walk away with a basic grasp of the language. I am now able to read, write and understand Spanish at a beginner level… Speaking, on the other hand, is a whole different story!
Accommodation in Salamanca
There are a few different options when it comes to finding accommodation in Salamanca for the duration of your Spanish Classes, including campus residences, homestays, or shared student apartments.
Campus Residence- Staying at a campus residence is one of the best ways to feel immersed in the true university life, given you will be surrounded by local students (and not just internationals)! There are four different halls available for International students, all within walking distance of the University. You can opt for either a shared room or a private room, all furnished and equipped with the necessities. Three of the halls offer catering options, and one hall offers kitchen access so you can cook your own meals (this is the option I went for!)
Homestay- If you want a complete cultural immersion, homestay is the way to go. Boarding with a local Salamancan family is certainly the best way to throw yourself into the deep end as most families only speak Spanish, which offers the perfect opportunity to practice your language skills. On the downside, doing a homestay means you won’t get as much interaction with students your own age.
Apartment- The other option is finding either a private or shared student apartment to stay in. You can look on Airbnb (if you sign up here you can score a $40 voucher towards your first stay) or you can sign up for a shared apartment through the University website. Getting a shared apartment is certainly the most economical option and also possibly the best way to meet and interact with fellow students!
The Salamanca Way of Life
Salamanca is host to a range of amazing restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs. Being a student city, the place is ALWAYS abuzz- every night of the week there will be party going on somewhere! If you are not familiar with the Spanish way of life, they run to a very different schedule to the rest of the world.
Breakfast is eaten late and generally consists of a quick coffee and churro, lunch is eaten between 2pm and 3pm, and dinner from 9pm onwards. Besides the strange meal times, the Spaniards’ sleep schedule is probably the hardest thing to get used to! Between 2pm and 5pm, everything shuts down as everyone goes home for a siesta (aka, a fat nap). Everything then opens up again, and most people will stay up late into the evening- even children. If you’re heading out to a party, don’t expect to head out until 12am. As for getting home…. 5am is a pretty standard time to be in bed!
Additional Resources for Learning Spanish
If you can’t simply jet off to a Spanish-speaking country in order to learn the language, rest assured there are other methods for teaching yourself Español! Here are a couple of resources I’ve found particularly useful:
The Michel Thomas Method- Recommended to me by Along Dusty Roads (who have a fantastic blog post about how they learnt Spanish in Latin America), the Michel Thomas Method is one of the most unique and effective ways of learning a language that I have come across. Taught in a way where you don’t need to write anything down, memorize anything or go through painful textbooks, this method is the ultimate way to learn a language if lingusitics aren’t your thing. You can download an app and listen to modules on your phone- they aren’t cheap, but if you are keen to start learning Spanish in a completely new way, it is worth the investment.
Duolingo- This is great free phone app that is perfect for learning Spanish on the go. Although it might not teach you how to string a normal sentence together (unless you use “A bear ate my cat!” as a normal conversation starter), it is a handy, interactive way of broadening your Spanish vocabulary.
Rosetta Stone Language Learning- Rosetta Stone is the latest tool I have been trialing in order to improve my Spanish. It is the world’s first immersive language learning software, meaning it is super interactive and works for all different styles of learning. You can get a monthly subscription to the service, which is worth the investment if you are committed to learning Spanish. To be honest, it is probably is probably the next best thing to jetting off to a Spanish-speaking country for language lessons!
Spanish Netflix Shows- A great way to improve your language skills is through watching TV shows in Spanish with English subtitles or vice versa. Some of my favorite Spanish shows to watch include Las Chicas De Cable, Velvet and Narcos. What better way to justify Netflix binging?! It’s educational!
Coffee Break Spanish- This fantastic free Spanish podcast was actually the first way I started to learn Spanish. Each episode takes you through a range of useful, everyday vocabulary in an easy-to-follow manner. The podcast has been going since 2008 so you will find plenty of material to get through. To be honest, the presenter’s delightful Scottish accent is reason alone to take a listen!
PS. If you are wondering what happened with the Salsa dancing… Lessons are yet to commence. If anyone knows a sexy Spaniard who knows his way around the dance floor- feel free to send him my way ;)
PPS. I’d love to hear the things that YOU have always wanted to try, whether it is learning a language or mastering a new skill! Let me know in the comments below!
Just to note this post is not sponsored or affiliated in any way with Salamanca University… Just simply sharing my Spanish learning experience with you guys!