A lot of people associate Colombia with narcotics, danger and the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar who was responsible for a long reign of drug related terror. However, I want to emphasise that this is very poor picture of the real Colombia. Of course we cannot forget the tragedies of the past but we must look beyond the outdated representation of this country. Colombia is an incredible place. It’s a country full of life and ambition and the people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. The landscapes, food, history, and culture make it an extremely interesting place to visit. I’m going to focus this post on the ways you can practice Spanish in Colombia without going to a language school. If don’t want to spend more money on Spanish classes, there are alternative ways to improve your language skills.
Learn on your own surrounded by Spanish speakers
I stayed in Medellin for about a month and a half, a place known as ‘the city of eternal spring’ for it’s wonderful climate. Being British, the weather was probably a big reason as to why I spent most of my time in there practicing Spanish…
I was taught a large amount of grammar in Guatemala. However, being a beginner, most of this had gone straight through my head and out the other side! For this reason, instead of paying for more Spanish classes, I focused my time on going over all of the information that I had stored away in my notebook. I booked myself into an Airbnb with a Colombian family, bought some stationary and went to different parks to revise my Spanish. My speaking skills were pretty poor at the time but I managed to get by with the family and this immersive experience boosted my enthusiasm to learn more. If you really try hard to revise on your own, you can see a significant improvement. Within a couple of weeks, I could converse more and more with the family and I knew that all my revision had really paid off!
Get to know the locals
Travelling alone in a foreign country means that you need to take some precautions to keep safe – be aware of your surroundings, etc. However, this isn’t to say that you can’t make an effort to get to know the locals and learn more about their culture. It’s definitely the best way to practice your language skills! I’ll tell you about one friend in particular…
About half way through my time in Colombia, I started to feel a bit confused about my mission to learn Spanish. I was finding it difficult to up the level of my listening and speaking skills and part of me wanted to give up all together and just focus on my travels. During that time, I visited a church in Cartagena and met a young guy who worked there. He was very enthusiastic to learn English and also wanted to help me to practice my Spanish. Over the next few days, we met up and conversed about our different lives and taught each other new words and phrases from our languages. I felt more confident with my speaking skills and saw this as a sign to not give up learning Spanish. He remains a good friend today and I really owe it to him for giving the motivation to continue language learning.
Research free Spanish classes (Yes, they do exist!)
Free language classes probably sound like a myth but I assure you that if you look hard enough, you will find them. Universities often offer free classes and the reason for this is that trainee teachers need real students so that they can practice their teaching skills. I attended free conversational classes at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin. The classes can be a bit hit and miss depending on which teacher you get but they’re a great way to learn new words and phrases. If you want to find free classes, I’d say the best way to start is by asking other foreigners who live and work in the area where you want to study. This is how I found out about them.