From Australia to Spain
Beginning of this year, I moved from Australia with half of my luggage to Spain making a complete change to my lifestyle. This time it was not the job that brought me to this new place. No, this move was much simpler (but harder) than that. I literally just looked at a map to find an ideal cycling place to live – always sunny and warm, varying terrain with a great cycling culture. And Southern Spain looked like it would tick all boxes. I did not know anyone in Spain, didn’t speak Spanish and had never been to this region, so for someone who is constantly looking for the next adventure, this would be a big one.
I booked a one-way ticket, a rental car and a hotel for one night and started a new chapter in my life. What would happen after that? I had no idea.
Four months later…
I cant believe it but four months have passed; time to talk about one of the big challenges when I arrived in Spain – the language.
In January, I did not speak any Spanish. The realization that I really didn’t speak any word came when it was brought to my attention that the few words I was saying were actually Italian.
So how would I learn Spanish and communicate in a town where no other language was spoken?
Language school was not really an option as I was not sure how long I would stay.
That question became never a problem as the Spaniards made it very easy when it comes to communicating. They would try everything to understand me and vice versa.
There were a few options to communicate: 1. Gesturing, 2. Google translate 3. Using French, English and German and hoping that one of the words sound familiar (caution, this could also lead to some very awkward situations as some words mean something totally different in another language).
Despite the communication options and the helpful Spaniards, it was still a rocky start.
There were times I just wanted to say something and wanted to be understood right away. I did not want to think extensively how to get the message across. Sometimes, I just didn’t say anything to avoid the hassle.
The cyclist’s way to learn Spanish
I had no idea about the Spanish grammar, let alone any vocabulary so I downloaded a few apps to get a grasp of the language structure and some very essential words.
Although the app helped a bit, it was a minor step compared to actually getting out and interacting with people. The most helpful communication was on the bike. When I am riding 3-5 hours a day with the guys and they talk, laugh, yell and ask – I am constantly trying to figure out what is going on.
In the first 2 months, I was a quiet listener. Some people interacted with me on occasion, some not at all. And not because they were trying to avoid me but because it was hard to communicate anyway; it was even harder on the bike.
But with time and patience of the group, I could understand increasingly more and started to speak. First, just the basics but soon enough, I could hold a entire conversation.
It was an interesting development because the group was never so sure how much I understood. Sometimes, at random I could answer a question that was asked or I laughed at a joke I would have not understood a week prior.
It also has been a fascinating experience how differently people respond to someone who is learning a new language. Some of the guys speak very slowly to me so I can understand every word, some of them just talk to me as I would understand everything.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still at the beginning but the biggest hurdle of basic communication is behind me. Once a certain level of language skills is reached, it is an exponential improvement to learn a language from there.
Don’t let the lack of the language prevent you from travelling to a new country
Some people might avoid travelling to a country because of the lack of the language. But I can only encourage to go. There is absolutely no replacement for learning a language than visiting that country and constantly interacting with it. And especially when you are completely new to the language, you can see your improvement day after day.
Enjoy your travel!
Have you had a similar experience? What do you think is the best way to learn a language?