Recently my half forgotten high school Spanish received a steroid shot right to the buttocks. Let me explain; I visited Bogotá, Colombia. Spending a week in the country did more for my Spanish than months of schoolwork. Traveling to a foreign country seems to be the ideal way to learn a language. Why is that?
- Motivation: When you have to speak another language just to eat, or get around the motivation is huge. Learning, which might have seemed like a chore at home, becomes a quest for survival. Learning then becomes a badge of accomplishment; it feels so much better when its needed.
- Immersion: Hearing a foreign language all around brings it to the forefront of your consciousness. Constant bombardment makes the language familiar to you, part of your experience of the world. It also provides constant reinforcement of sentence structure and pronunciation.
- Cultivation: Everyone you meet is a teacher. Anyone you interact with can help you improve your language speaking ability if you are open to them. They can correct pronunciation, teach you new vocabulary, phrases, or my everyone’s favorite: swear words. All that is required is a curious and open attitude.
Selecting a country for language immersion requires attention to many factors. Things like the culture, friendliness of people, and daily costs should all be taken into consideration. Also the dialect of language must be considered. For example those wishing to learn German should probably steer clear of Switzerland, as the German spoken there has a heavy accent. It is important to identify places where language is spoken clearly and pick those. The criteria below can be used as a model for picking any location, or learning any language.
- Clarity of dialogue.
Bogotá is an ideal place to learn Spanish. Lets apply our criteria to find out why:
- Clarity of dialogue: Colombian Spanish has very little, if any, accent. It is the same Spanish that you learn in university classes all over the world.
- Attitude: In general, the Colombian attitude seems to be a combination of Caribbean easygoing-ness and European business sensibilities. This creates an environment where students will feel the warmth and friendliness of people while not feeling alienated by totally foreign economic culture.
- Culture: Tango, Salsa, Guitar are all very popular in Bogotá. Tango is an excellent way to meet people, and those who are experienced say you can learn more about a person by Tangoing with them for a few songs, than by having weeks of conversation. Salsa is similar. Colombia is home of Cali, the world Salsa dancing capital. It is a $17USD bus ride from Bogotá. Guitar players are abundant and lessons are very inexpensive. Bogotá is also big enough to offer a variety of other things to learn, such as soccer, Tae Kwon Do, painting, or nearly any other activity you could imagine.
- Cost: Bogotá is very inexpensive for a U.S. traveler. High quality dinner range between 3-12USD, 12 meals being from world class restaurants. Accommodation can be garnered for as little as $5USD per day, and cheaper for a longer stay. To facilitate a move there, one can hire an assistant to help in renting an apartment for a very reasonable price.
For anyone who is trying to master a foreign language: go abroad, then live your life. The language will teach itself to you. There is really no easier, nor more fun way.