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Thinking in another language, thinking in another culture

Melissa Weinmann
Estudiante norteamericana en la Universidad de Alicante

After ten years of studying a foreign language, I have come to not only realize how difficult it can be to learn Spanish, but also learn English as well. As someone with English as her first language, it is easy for me to say that English is much simpler than Spanish. There are no genders of nouns, no indirect object pronouns or subjunctive conjugations.

But being so closed-minded won’t get one very far, not just with learning something new, but also learning somewhere new. Living in a foreign country for almost ten months has opened my mind to new and exciting things, as well as new world views.

Not only have I learned to think in another language, but also to think in another culture. Last year when I lived in San Sebastian, I observed the “crazy” habits of the Spanish people, which I shared with my family upon returning to Chicago. I was eager to get home, but once I had returned, my mind constantly drifted to thoughts of that unique Basque town.

The chance to travel abroad again was one I couldn’t pass up, and the moment I discovered it was possible I was at the Spanish Embassy in Chicago filling out the visa forms. Once back on Spanish soil, memories flooded back to me from my previous year’s experience. Although I hadn’t spoken Spanish since leaving Spain, the words rolled off my tongue as though they had been waiting to awaken from their six month slumber. It was hard at first, but I soon gained back my ability to communicate.

While last year my semester in Spain consisted of travel and hanging out with Americans, this semester has been far more different. I chose to live with a local family once again, this time one with a 2-year-old boy. Practicing with him and watching him in his development has been an amazing experience. I also worked as an intern at a local radio station, writing weekly comparisons of the American and Spanish culture; believe me, there are many!

Melissa (right) with some students at EOI ALICANTE

One of the experiences I can say has made me appreciate learning a new language has definitely been teaching at the EOI. I have never taught a class before, nor have I taken any education classes prior to holding classes here. However, I believe the ability to share what I know with those who speak the language I am trying to learn has helped improve both of our language skills.

It’s always a relief to see my intercambio have trouble using the prepositions, since she directly translates from her native tongue. Problems with which I had been frustrated for many years had finally been a common problem between me and those learning English.

After settling in to Alicante, I forgot about things that once surprised me. I become used to my environment and I begin to understand my surroundings. When my parents visited me here in Spain, I once again became aware of such differences, having to explain how normal it is to walk dogs without leashes, drink beer on the beach, or smoke in a restaurant. I like how I have become aware of these differences but over time become accustomed to them.

Such an experience has proved to me that traveling changes a person. On the surface, I have furthered my ability to speak Spanish and been able to see famous places that before only existed in movies. Deep down I have become comfortable amongst people of a completely different culture, and been able to appreciate their differences with a new perspective.

La Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Alicante no asume la responsabilidad sobre las opiniones expresadas en los artículos firmados, la cual es exclusiva de sus autores.
Agradecemos a nuestros alumnos, profesores, colaboradores y patrocinadores su participación en la revista.

EDITA: Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Alicante
COORDINACIÓN: Juan Tomás García Asensi
ISSN: 1886-1792