Having been in Seville for over a week now, I’ve become semi-adjusted to the time change (jet lag for the first three days frequently kept me up until 6 am Spanish local time), the differences in Spanish lifestyle (waiting until 10 pm for dinner doesn’t seem totally absurd any more), and have some of an idea about my surroundings/location within Seville. Although it’s taken about a week, I finally feel comfortable and settled into more of a routine. However, by no means would I say that I’m completely adjusted to life here in Seville. There are still many social norms, customs, and countless places within the city that I’m just starting to become familiar with. The most difficult thing, which I think will take me the entire semester to become more comfortable and familiar with, is the language difference.
Having studied Spanish for over nine years, I feel pretty confident in my language comprehension and knowledge of the vocabulary. Still, I have no doubt that there will always be room for me to improve. During class this past week, one of our professors, who has lived in Seville for over 15 years, said that native Spanish speakers still notice a difference in her American accent. Almost 20 years immersed in the Spanish culture and people are still able to tell that she’s not a native speaker. Because I will only be in Spain for about 4 months (much less time than my professor), I realize that speaking perfect Spanish will not be possible. I don’t think studying abroad is supposed to make me fluent in Spanish. Studying abroad will make me more competent and confident in speaking a language foreign to my own. While obviously becoming fluent would be ideal, it’s not a realistic goal to set for myself during my short semester abroad. Being able to confidently speak a language in which I’m not fluent, in my opinion, is a much more valuable skill.
Getting off the plane in Seville, I was immediately surrounded by the Spanish language. My taxi driver, my orientation leader, my professors – they were all speaking to me in Spanish. Having travelled through various cities for over 24 hours, I was exhausted and disoriented, being plunged so quickly into such an unfamiliar culture. However, after two days in Seville, all of my friends and I already recognized the progress we had made both understanding and speaking Spanish. (Immersion is the way to go!)
While I may not come back to the United States in 4 months speaking perfect Spanish, I think I will have gained confidence in the fact that I can speak Spanish (no matter if it’s perfect or not). My American accent will always be obvious – no matter how excellent my grammatical construction or extensive vocabulary. However, I think being able to have the confidence to speak Spanish, to converse and connect with people, will create a better experience. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand all the differences with ser/estar and when I’m talking too fast I probably mix up preterite and imperfect constantly. The more time I spend in Seville I hope to improve these things, but I’ve also realized that it’s not essential for me to speak perfect Spanish to have a conversation with someone in the dining hall or talk to the waiter at a tapas bar. Simply having the confidence to speak Spanish, despite my difficulties, seems to me like the best way to become comfortable and immersed in Seville.