Home Emigrate About emigrating and learning Spanish. | This is how you learn a new language.
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About emigrating and learning Spanish. | This is how you learn a new language.

by Sabine
Languages / Talen

If you are going to emigrate, one of the most important things you need to do is learn the new language. How do you learn a new language? How did I learn Spanish? And also: in what language do I communicate with my Colombian partner? Learning Spanish was a huge challenge, but also incredibly fun. In this article, I answer these questions and you’ll find my tips for learning a new language!

Emigrating and learning a new language: how did I do it?

Especially if you are emigrating to a country where they don’t speak English, learning a new language is necessary in order to integrate.

Unlike when you travel and some basic knowledge of Spanish comes in handy, when you emigrate you have to have a pretty good command of the language if you want to get along in society without help. Grocery shopping is still possible with a few words, but talking about politics, going to the hospital on your own or working at a local business is quite difficult if you don’t speak the language.

Now I really don’t have a knack for languages and pretty much struggle with any language outside of Dutch and English. Still, I managed to make Spanish my own.

This is how I learned Spanish

  • I started learning Spanish early. First know the alphabet well, know how to pronounce letters and when to use certain letters and when not to.
  • On my phone, I installed the app DuoLingo. Here I playfully learned many phrases and words in Spanish.
  • Once I knew the basics I started watching Colombian TV, including the series Yo Soy Betty la Fea. I also read the Colombian news almost every day. I understood very little of it at first, but as I looked up many words I kept learning.
  • Meanwhile, I searched the Internet for websites with Spanish lessons on grammar and learning of words. That helped a lot to increase my vocabulary. I also bought grammar books.

You only really learn the language properly in the country itself

I never took a Spanish course and it wasn’t until I immigrated to Colombia that my Spanish began to improve. If no one speaks English you have to and then suddenly things go a lot faster. At work I had a hard time keeping up at first, but when you hear Spanish all day you naturally start to understand and mimic things. After six months, I was fine. In short: really good Spanish I didn’t learn until I lived in the country.


How well do I speak Spanish?

After almost 10 years of living in Colombia, I am fluent in Spanish. I sometimes make grammatical mistakes and because of the difference in Spanish between different regions, I sometimes don’t know some sayings or words. But I do everything in Spanish. From visiting the medical specialist, chatting about politics or going to the Colombian Chamber of Commerce to start my own business in Colombia.

I learned to speak Spanish well during the 2.5 years I worked at the National Cancer Institute of Colombia, where no one spoke English. At first I didn’t understand a thing and just sat there during lunch, but that quickly changed. If you have to then it goes a lot faster too, there is no choice but learning the language.

My Spanish is certainly not flawless. I sometimes make grammar mistakes and I usually hear them. Even when it comes to new things, I don’t understand everything, simply because I don’t know the words then. So I am still learning. Also, I do not know all Colombian sayings and proverbs.

In Colombia, there are dozens of ways to say 1 thing, and each person and family use different ways. As a result, sometimes I still learn new words or sayings.


Being able to speak a second foreign language: what’s that like?

Cool! Especially since I really don’t have a knack for languages. In high school, I consistently got failing grades in English. Therefore, I am now quite proud that I managed to do this after all.

Speaking in Spanish has become second nature. It comes naturally. That was certainly not the case for the first 2 years, then at the end of the day I was so tired of always having to figure out what to say and what someone meant.

By now, speaking Spanish is common and not at all tiring. In fact, I often even think in Spanish. Being fluent in this language gives me tremendous confidence. In the beginning, I did not dare to do certain things out of fear of not understanding. Calling someone, for example, I did that for the first time after about eight months. Nowm I don’t even think about that anymore.

Learning a new language gives you so much more freedom when you emigrate. Then you no longer depend on others or on a translation app, but you can manage yourself in your new country.

There is a big disadvantage to learning a new language when emigrating, though. What exactly you read here.


What language do I speak with my Colombian partner?

Although my partner also speaks English, we only speak Spanish at home. Previously, I have also engaged in dating in Colombia through dating apps, and always in Spanish.

Does that sometimes create awkward moments? Yes indeed, sometimes we don’t understand each other. Logical: Spanish is not my native language and we both come from a different culture.

And culture and language are inseparable.

However, it often produces especially funny situations when I say something weird, when we don’t understand each other or when I make a joke when he in particular makes a language mistake.


How best to learn a new language when emigrating?

  • Start with simple words, the alphabet and reading simple texts.
  • Install useful apps. For example, I have an app with the most commonly used Spanish verbs + conjugations that I often used especially in the beginning. And there is a dictionary Spanish-Dutch-Spanish on my phone (which by now, 10 years later, I use very little).
  • Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube … search Spanish-language series. With that, you learn in a fun way. First with English subtitles, then with Spanish subtitles and if you understand that without subtitles.
  • Start learning on time and not just on your first day in the new country. Make sure you know at least the basics.
  • You don’t really learn a language until you speak it in society. So move among the people and speak up!
  • Dare to speak and dare to make mistakes. You will learn from this and a little laughter won’t hurt.
  • Accept help from others. For example, I have learned a lot from my colleagues and I still sometimes get a whole explanation when someone notices that I keep making the same mistake. Very handy!
  • You can, of course, take a course, either in your home country or in your new country. This Spanish language course, for example. Learning Spanish online is also a good way. In addition, fun, easy and inexpensive.


Do you speak Spanish or another foreign language? And how did you learn a new language? I’m curious!


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