Before traveling to Barcelona for my semester abroad, I practiced the basic Spanish that I knew, and learning new words in Spanish through Duolingo. I used Duolingo for two years leading up to my trip because I knew that I would most likely study abroad in a Spanish speaking country. Going into my trip to Barcelona, I thought that I understood and spoke Spanish well, but that it would get better when I could actually practice my Spanish regularly and speak it to other people. To my surprise, as soon as I started listening to people speaking Spanish, I realized that I was not at the Spanish level that I had thought I was. I was more of a beginner when it came to listening and understanding people when they spoke Spanish. My speaking level was also not as high as I thought it was because although I was able to speak Spanish in complete sentences, I was slow and I would struggle with knowing when and which necessary filler words to use.
My housing assignment in Barcelona SAE that I chose for my semester abroad was a home stay. This means that I lived with a local family for the semester. When I arrived at my home stay and realized that my host mother only spoke Spanish, I knew that I would be getting a ton of Spanish practice. It was definitely a challenge at first, but as the semester progressed and I was able to improve and practice my Spanish a lot, the language barrier became less and less, and I was able to communicate with my host mom with little to no problem. I was able to improve my Spanish greatly by practicing it in coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, but also practicing it with my host family and friends. Whenever I would hear words that I didn’t understand, I would use my Spanish Dictionary app on my phone and learn what the words meant as well. It also didn’t hurt that I took a Spanish class in UPF during my semester in Barcelona. By the end of my semester in Barcelona I was able to speak Spanish in present and past tense, and I was also able to speak it a little more fluently. I was able to understand people when they would talk to me in Spanish as well, as long as they wouldn’t speak too fast.
Of course, being in Barcelona for so long I also learned some Catalan phrases and words. If you go to Barcelona or anywhere in the Catalonia region and you want to please the locals, I recommend picking up some Catalan words and phrases and trying to speak it. My favorite Catalan phrase that I learned was “mare de déu” which translates literally to “mother of god” but is used as if you say, “oh my god”. This is my favorite phrase because I can use it whenever I want to in the United States, and no one will know what I’m talking about.
Through my time living in a country that speaks another language, it has proven that if you put your mind to it, you can greatly increase your language level. If you are thinking about living in a country that speaks a language you are not fluent in, but you are worried about the language barrier, don’t let it bother you because living in that country is the best way you can improve your language level. At first people will notice that you have a language barrier, but you have to start somewhere, and you will be thankful that you made the decision to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation so that you can have more self-growth.