One thing you probably know by now is that Damon and I are no newbies to studying languages. We’re both passionate about learning foreign languages so that things don’t seem so foreign while traveling to different countries. One of the most commonly asked questions we get, aside from “how to book the cheapest flight,” is “how do you learn so many languages?” The answer is a series of things including having a strong interest in the subject, practicing discipline, and making learning a lifestyle, rather than a chore.
And while there are several apps, books, and programs you can buy to help your language chops, one of the fastest and most immersive way I’ve ever learned a language was by studying in a language school while abroad. It takes the boring and “voluntary” aspect about learning the language completely out of the picture; you’re there to learn and everything that happens in your day-to-day reminds you of that. Queue an awkward scene at the bakery when you realize you don’t know how to say “can I have a bag to-go?”
During my 20 days abroad in Cuba, I knew I wanted to make the most of this trip to such a unique country by getting information from the locals in their tongue; I needed to understand what living a Cuban life meant sans language barrier. I contacted Apple Languages, a global language school company, and asked about Spanish classes in Cuba. After a few friendly emails with my contact in the UK, I received a welcome packet with vital information about my trip and classes.
Once I completed my 20 hours of Spanish, I couldn’t help but compile a list of all the reasons your next trip should include some language classes with Apple Languages and language schools in general.
You’ll meet the most interesting international people
While I did 20 hours of intermediate level private lessons, I was still fully involved in the entire language school process with other students who gathered from all over the world. Czech Republic, Germany, England, USA, and Australian students ranging from ages 18-45 all in one room receiving the orientation for the life-changing experience of learning language abroad. For a brief moment in time, all different walks of life were connected for this interesting and unique journey to learn Spanish in Cuba, how insane is that?!
We met in a beautiful mansion in the heart of one of Cuba’s cleanest and youngest neighborhoods, Vedado, to be greeted by a friendly staff who worked to make sure the students living and studying inside of the Casa were comfortable. Once the orientation process was over, the group began asking questions about why each person had decided to come study in Cuba, reasons varied from “It’s my holiday,” to “I wanted more out of life,” and “I needed to learn Spanish to date my bf/gf.” Whatever the reason, it was exciting to meet like-minded people who took a risk and dedicate anywhere from one to seven weeks of their lives to living abroad with daily Spanish classes. We all instantly bonded, and began making plans for weekend trips to nearby cities; I knew these were my kind of people. You grow close to one another because you’re all in the same boat; struggling and laughing at your own mistakes while learning a foreign language, the makings of true friendship.
Next thing you know, I’m taking a trip to a beach town with a German woman named Gina who became a great friend from that experience of being in the same language school. Clearly, I’ll have to pay her a visit next time I’m in Berlin!
The beauty of a language school is that there is no correct age, or background; you’re finally able to make your dreams of studying abroad a reality without the “school credit” obligation; how liberating! And unlike studying abroad while in college, you actually learn because you’re investing in yourself to do so.
You get a fresh perspective that tourists won’t get
When you’re a tourist, you see things through a sheltered lens. You’ll explore watered down neighborhoods that have been seen in pictures thousands of times, you’ll probably only be surrounded by other tourists, and you’ll miss the gems that you can only experience by having a daily routine in the given city. While studying Spanish in Cuba, I was able to eat at hip cafeterias, learn how to take the public bus, catch amazing local artwork on the streets, and even became friends with the lady who would make my “pan con tortilla” every morning. Having things to do while abroad takes away the feeling that you’re an outsider; you’re completely connected to your experience and therefore grasp more from it.
You befriend more locals
Whether you and your classmates take the leap to go out and chat up locals with your new Spanish skills, or your teacher because a close friend, studying a language abroad will guarantee you’ll make more local friends. Personally, I was able to use all of my history knowledge and even some slang to keep conversations going longer with my Cuban friends after class. Aside from that, my teacher and I had the most amazing conversations about topics I would have with my own grandfather; hence why he told me to consider him my Cuban abuelito.
You’re engaged in learning, because you have no choice not to be
The difference between learning a language abroad, versus in your home country in a stuffy classroom is very clear: learning abroad means you’ll truly grasp necessary concepts that take basic proficiency to fluent in half the amount of time. And why is that? Because you’re actually engaged in what you’re learning. You’ll come to class with questions about words that you saw on signs while shopping for groceries the night before, or phrases you overheard locals say. This aspect of learning abroad was invaluable for me while in Cuba; I had a million questions that my genius teacher would answer with elaborate stories and historic explanations. Within one week, I felt like I knew more about Cuban history and Spanish verb tenses than I knew about my Brazil and Portuguese, my native country and language.
You remember that adventure doesn’t discriminate
Whether we like to admit it or not, we often tell ourselves we’re “too young” or “too old” to do certain things with our lives. Of course, we all have our priorities, but sometimes we cling on to what’s realistic, and what’s already been done before instead of taking a leap outside of what’s new and different. Studying in this language school reminded me that you’re never too old to spice up your life; there’s always an opportunity to go abroad and learn things you’ve always wanted to learn. Take it from my 40 year old international friends who came to Cuba at least once a year to learn Spanish and Folkloric dancing, you can always get out there and treat yourself to some adventure.