I initially decided I really wanted to learn Spanish in high school. As part of the IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum, I was required to study a language for four years. My options were Spanish, German, or French. Thinking of the growing usefulness of and need for Spanish in the United States, I chose to learn Spanish. The more Spanish I learned, the more I fell in love with this beautiful language.
When I finished high school, I decided to get my degree in Spanish at the University of Alabama. In my second year of study, I made the choice to study abroad in order to improve my Spanish fluency and vocabulary. Originally, I had chosen to study in Argentina. However, I was working with a Spanish conversation partner who happened to be from Colombia. She and the other Colombians I met at the English Language Institute at the University of Alabama told me it would be almost sacrilegious to study Argentinian Spanish. They convinced me that Colombian Spanish was the best in Latin America and that I should change my study aboard program from Argentina to Colombia, for the sake of my future Spanish. So, after investigating my options and researching Colombian Spanish, I changed my study abroad destination to Colombia.
From January to August 2008, I studied a semester at la Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota through the International Relations/Political Science Faculty. Now, I won’t lie to you. In the beginning, it was hard. The four years of Spanish I had studied in high school and the two years of Spanish classes I had completed at the University of Alabama had given me a strong foundation, but were not enough to truly interact with my Colombian classmates and professors. After the first week, I had almost decided to give up—I was overwhelmed with my inability to communicate in the ways I wanted to as well as my inability to actively participate in fast moving conversations. However, I stuck it out and I am so glad I did. By the time my semester in Bogota was over, my Spanish was good enough that upon my return to the United States, many of my Spanish-speaking friends and even some of my Spanish professors thought I was either a native Spanish speaker or had grown up in a Spanish-speaking atmosphere.
Choosing Colombia turned out to be a great option for improving my Spanish for many reasons. First of all, while nowadays many Colombians know English and there is a strong push for improving English instruction in the schools here, there are still many Colombians who do not speak English and or who will simply prefer to speak to you in Spanish. If you are trying to learn Spanish or improve your Spanish, Colombia is the perfect setting. I’ve had many friends who have studied abroad in Spain, Argentina, and other Spanish speaking countries who have come back and complained about how many Spaniards, Argentinians, etc… prefer to try and practice their English with exchange and study abroad students rather than try to help them improve their Spanish. In Colombia, you’ll find Colombians are more than willing to have patience with you as you practice your Spanish with them-many will even find it encouraging that you are trying to use and learn their native language to communicate. You certainly won’t lack opportunities to practice your Spanish in Colombia—in fact, you’ll probably be amazed by how often you’ll be able to practice!
Secondly, while some may say I am biased, I do believe Colombian Spanish is the best Spanish around. I’ve travelled to many Spanish-speaking countries and have interacted with enough Spanish-speakers from various Latin American countries to have a good idea of the variety of Spanish dialects in use. And, while no country has a perfectly neutral Spanish, Colombia comes pretty close, especially Bogota. While the Bogotano dialect may be the most neutral, most Colombians, no matter where you go, use excellent vocalization, speak at a decent pace (not too fast for Spanish language learners), use standard vocabulary, and employ appropriate and correct grammatical structures as well as language formalities that may be lacking elsewhere. Thus, for a Spanish that will be understood and “standard” all over the Spanish-speaking world, Colombian (Bogotano) Spanish is the way to go.
Lastly, Colombia is still a country in the process of being discovered, both linguistically as well as geographically. During my time as an exchange student, I was able to explore Colombia and see some of the most beautiful and magnificent landscapes I have ever laid eyes on. The diversity and plethora of astounding and stunning places to see and explore in Colombia is endless. Can you imagine a better way to practice your Spanish than by traveling to some of the most beautiful places you’ll ever find and interacting with some of the friendliest people you might ever meet?
So, what are you waiting for? Find that Spanish course you’ve been wanting to take and head on down to Colombia.
Paige M. Poole
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
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- Uncover Colombia interview: Tom’s experience learning Spanish and touring the country (www.uncovercolombia.com)
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- [Spanish] 4 Reasons why learning Spanish will improve your career (spanishforlearners.com)