How To Learn Spanish Without A Textbook

When I moved to Spain, my spanish was awful. I’m not exaggerating when I say I didn’t even know how to say “nice to meet you” in a conversation (I had learned it but I didn’t remember). I had taken 3 years (6 months each year, so really 1.5 years) of Spanish in highschool and then a semester in college, but to be honest, it was all kind of a joke. I remember learning bits and pieces, like a few animals (perro, gato), a few irregular verbs (tengo, quiero) and the present tense (hablo, hablas, habla). Y ya esta. That was it.

So getting to Spain was a mild shock for me. Everybody always told me, “ohhh just by living in Spain, you’ll learn spanish. It’ll just take about 3 months.” Well, everyone was lying. Three months into living here and I felt like my Spanish wasn’t improving like I expected. Being an english teacher here means I spend my days speaking english. I have a group of fellow auxiliares and we all speak english together (LOVE YOU GUYS!). My roommate lived in the US for a year and has perfect english. I felt like I was living in an english speaking bubble in Spain and something needed to change! 

Once February rolled around, I was sick of myself not learning as much spanish as I liked. So I decided to make a few small changes that have really made a big difference these past 2 months. And the best part–I’m not sitting somewhere reading a textbook for hours! So here’s the changes I made:

1. Listen to all my music in spanish. ME ENCANTA LA MUSICA DE SHAKIRA!!! Her songs in spanish, in my opinion, are so much better than her english versions. She clearly writes the songs in spanish first, and then “translates” it to english. The translations over to english sometimes actually change the meanings of the songs (a little), and I’ve really enjoyed understanding her spanish versions of songs. Gitana (Gypsy) is one of my favorite songs in spanish, but in english, I don’t like it as much. My first song I learned in spanish was La Tortura…HIGHLY RECOMMEND. 

Anyways, first I listen to the song a few times and try to understand it. Then I listen to it while reading the LETRAS (lyrics). Any words/phrases I don’t understand, I translate and write. After I’m finished learning a song, it gets added to my running playlist and basically drilled into my head. Today, I learned the spanish version of Let It Go. In spanish it’s called Libre Soy which means I am free, so a little different than the english version, but still really fun to learn and a great song.

2. Read magazines in spanish. In my magazines, sometimes I use a pen and write translations and new words in them while reading. But reading magazines has always been fun for me, so I’ve enjoyed reading cosmo each month. And now, I know a lot of the makeup/beauty terminology in spanish which comes in handy when I find myself aimlessly wandering through Sephora and the beauty sections of stores here. Jajaja I’m such a girly-girl.

3. Listen to my students when they talk. With my young students, I learn so much!!! Since they’re only 4-6 years old, their vocabulary is very basic anyways and they aren’t speaking in slang (like my highschoolers) all the time. I teach 2 brothers, twice a week, and the older one is really good at english. I’ll explain something, and I let him translate to his brother if his brother doesn’t understand. At this point, I can obviously translate it too, but when I hear him translate it, it helps me know that he understands what I’m saying as well. Anyways, just listening to my younger students talk, especially when I teach vocabulary, has also helped me!

4. Talk. To. Everyone. Who. Will. Listen. But. Not. Abuelos. Basically, when I go places, I talk to people. I talk to people working there, ask questions, etc. At the grocery store I go to, I made a friend who works there and we always talk when I buy my groceries. Some abuelos (grandparents aka older people) are okay to talk to, but here in Pais Vasco (not sure how it is in the rest of Spain), I find the abuelos a little cynical and not very patient. So, I try to avoid speaking with them just to avoid both of us the struggle and headache.

Probably what abuelos are thinking when I try to talk to them… it says “in my times, the bathroom was for shit and not for taking pictures” hahaha. source

5. Watch tv/movies in spanish. So I’m not in full immersion with only watching tv/movies in spanish yet. I mean, I just started watching Pretty Little Liars on Netflix again, so I just can’t completely immerse myself yet. Maybe after I finish season 4 and find out who A is (judges self), I’ll only watch spanish tv/movies. Anyways, I’ve found it a lot more helpful to watch American movies that I’ve already seen, in spanish. Because I already know the plot line. I also always use sub titles and sit with my computer in front of me with google translate and any word I don’t know, I translate. At the end of the movie, I save the list of words on my computer and review the new vocabulary later!

6. Challenge yourself. The thing about being a native english speaker is, it is the universal language. A lot of people know english and will speak it to you. Here in Bilbao, less people know english than more international cities in Spain, but still a lot of people speak it. With that, I found myself being lazy. If someone knew english, I would just speak english. So I decided to start challenging myself. I told my roommate that we can only speak in english on the weekends, so the weeks, I only speak spanish. I also started speaking spanish with my coworkers, even if we are talking about lesson plans in english. I also actively listen everywhere I go, instead of passively being there. What I mean is when people talk on the metro, I try to listen to their conversations and understand what they’re saying.

Challenge yourself! source

Challenge yourself! source

But like all things in life, nothing worth having comes easily. And learning languages in no exception. It takes WORK to learn a new language. It’s not just going to happen overnight. But, in my opinion, the best way to learn something is to make it feel like you aren’t learning! I’ve made a few changes in things I already enjoy doing, like listening to music, talking to people, watching movies, and lately, I’ve been noticing the changes in my spanish. Now that I’m a teacher, I always tell my students LEARNING IS FUN, and the way I’m learning spanish has been great–sin libros aburrido.

**

How did you learn a second language? What is your favorite way to learn? 

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What I’m Loving This Week

Hey it’s the weekend! Yay! 

So here’s a few things I’m loving this week:

1. That I’m currently in Salamanca for a sexy valentines day weekend with my lover Taylor (okay, it’s actually a girls weekend). Follow my Instagram or Twitter (both @wanderlustkait) for live updates on the trip if you want! I always update those while I’m traveling with pictures! 

2. That two of my adorable younger students thought American money had penguins in the middle after I taught a lesson about shopping and we used this as money:

Picture 34

3. This mug. It doesn’t need words. It didn’t need an Instagram filter. It’s that cute.

Wait did I just post a picture of a mug? #postgradproblems

Wait, did I just post a picture of a mug? #postgradproblems

4. The fact that I feel the need to post a selfie on this blog to show you how big the cute mug is, by comparing it to the size of my face. I JUST WANTED EVERYONE TO KNOW IT WAS AN OVERSIZED ROUND MUG AND THAT’S WHY IT’S CUTE. This picture was taken after a workout, so please don’t judge my lack of makeup or hair.

But really, don't judge my hair.

But really, don’t judge my hair.

5. Discovering pink quinoa (will post recipe soon!). Food is always better pink, AMIRIGHT

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6. Cosmo Magazine. Also, that it came with a free BB cream. I’m excited to try it out! I love trying new make up, but I will say, I’m a die hard for Aveda face products.

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7. Strawberries. They are everywhere in the supermarkets and super cheap. Nommmssss.

HELLO VITAMIN C AND ANTIOXIDANTS!

HELLO VITAMIN C AND ANTIOXIDANTS!

8. That I saw this view while walking home from work the other night. I love old architecture by new buildings. This building is the Iberdrola Tower and is a famous building in Bilbao. It is actually the only high-rise in the city. Bilbao doesn’t have a skyline full of buildings, so this building really stands out, especially at night when you walk along the Nervión river (the river that runs from the Bay of Biscay through Bilbao). The Basques love to talk about it too, as it’s only two years old and a new addition to Bilbao.

Picture 38

9. That this happened: I taught Valentine’s day puns this week in class (shout out to Jenny for giving me the idea!). This one went over realllllly well with a group of 9 year old boys:

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Bad judgement on my part…. “KEITLANNN, what are buns?” -student *clicks to next slide to avoid talking about this with a group of 9 year old boys* “NO GO BACK PLEASE, ohhhh jajajjajaja I know what are buns” -student *whispers to friends in spanish what buns are, everyone laughs*

10. This song.

And that’s it! How are you guys? What are some things you’re loving this week? 

Three Days in Madrid

a weekend in madrid

In December, we had a puente weekend (3 day weekend) for school, so two fellow auxiliary friends and I decided to use that weekend to visit the capital of Spain…Madrid! I was so excited to finally see the capital of the country I’d been calling home from 3 months. I was also excited to get out of the Basque Country for a few days. To be honest, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I’m living in Spain. The Basque Country is very unique, as it has its own government and has even had issues with terrorism in the past from trying to break away from Spain to be its own country. Luckily, it is calm here now, but on multiple occasions, I have had basque people tell me that “they are not Spanish, they are Basque”. So, arriving in Madrid and seeing Spanish flags and words not overflowed with K’s and X’s (the Basques also have their own language, and I swear every word has a K or X), was nice.

As it was all our of first times in Madrid, it was a very touristy weekend. I felt like I was backpacking Europe, because we had a list of things to see and a schedule to make it all happen! This would be a pretty good plan to follow if you’re going to visit Madrid for a weekend, as I feel like we got a lot done and saw a lot!

Friday [Day 1]: By the time we took the bus to Madrid and checked into our hostel, it was late afternoon. We decided to visit Plaza Mayor and La Latina. La Latina is a neighborhood in Madrid known for its food and nightlife. We knew that that night, we had to get some Mojitos, as Madrid is apparently famous for them! Who knew? It was Christmas time, so there were also no shortage of beautiful lights and markets to gaze at as we walked through the streets to get to La Latina.

Plaza Mayor at Night

Plaza Mayor at Night

Saturday [Day 2]: Saturday was our sight seeing day. We started the day off with a walking tour or Madrid, where we saw a lot of the main places and learned about the history of Madrid. One of the best parts about staying at backpacker hostels when you visit places is that they always have activities and free walking tours. The walking tours can be hit or miss, and our tour guide was a little dry (aka he was 45 minutes late, I think he woke up 5 minutes before the tour and he seemed to be battling a pretty bad hangover), but at the end of the day, when you are sightseeing it is easier to have somebody leading you around, than to be struggling with a map with limited time in an unknown city. Don’t get sightseeing confused with wandering though. If you have lots of time and no huge places to see, get lost wandering and explore!

Did you know Madrid is the home of the Guiness book record for oldest restaurant in the world? Well now you do! Located in La Latina is Sobrino de Botin, the Guiness book record holder. Once you get over the pig legs and various parts hanging everywhere when you walk in, it is a cute, enchanting restaurant. It looks small, but there is also a basement and even an old, wine cellar.

sobrinodebotin

My favorite part of the tour was seeing the Royal Palace of Madrid. I love everything about castles and palaces and royal families! It was so beautiful that I didn’t even need to put an instagram filter on it. THAT IS WHEN YOU KNOW!

royalpalace

The walking tour ended on Gran Via, the main shopping street in Madrid. If you are American and missing the USA, just go to Gran Via in Madrid. It has Starbucks, McDonalds, TGI Fridays, etc. It has more than just food though! It has a nice mix of high end and affordable European shopping. We also decided to eat a late lunch, where I finally tried PAELLA!

paellamadrid

After shopping, eating and wining on Gran Via, we walked to Puerta del Sol (and saw the most giant, outrageous Corte Ingles) and then to Parque Del Buen Retire (aka the “Central Park” of Madrid). We spent our time meandering through the park, stopping to take pictures and jump in leaves. We even saw a lady who had at least 20 cats with her. I obviously wanted to get a picture of this and send it to my cat loving friends, but the instant I pulled out my iPhone to snap a picture, she started jumbling words in spanish and when I heard the word “dinero” thrown in there, it became clear that if you took a picture, you had to give her money. So that happened.

photo cred: my friend Katie :)

photo cred: my friend Katie :)

Our main reason of going to Parque Del Buen Retiro was to go on a boat ride during sunset in Estanque (the pond in the park). At 5:50pm, after about an hour or two of being in the park, we got to Estanque and found the entrance to the boat rides. Unlucky for us, they stopped giving boat rides at 5:45pm! Mierda. We decided we would go the next morning instead.

Because it was a Saturday, the Museo de Prado was free from 6-8pm and it is right next to Parque Del Buen Retiro, so we went there to get our dose of art history. Most museums in cities will either be free or have certain days/times that they are free, so definitely look into that before you go to cities to save you a few euros! 

That night, we explored Madrid’s nightlife and went to Kapital, a 7 story club. In typical spanish style, we didn’t get back to the hostel until 7am and were bruptly awoken by the Dutch girl staying in our room packing her things. It was 10:20am and apparently, we had 10 minutes to check out of the hostel or we would have to pay extra! I’ve never seen 3 girls who went out clubbing the night before move more quickly in my life.

Sunday [Day 3]: After managing to pull ourselves together in roughly 10 minutes, we were walking the streets of Madrid! We had planned on going to Parque Del Buen Retiro, but the last thing any of us wanted to do was sway in a rocking boat that morning. So instead, we decided to visit a Mercado de San Miguel, which we had walked past on our walking tour. The market was nice and had lots of different food vendors!

mercadodesanmiguel

We really wanted chocolate con churros though, and couldn’t find that in the mercado, so we went across the street to a cafe conveniently named Chocolate y Churros, located at 54 Calle Mayor. 

After indulging in chocolate con churros and regaining some energy, we walked through Madrid some more, just wandering and shopping. Next to one of the Christmas markets, we came across this adorable store called No Dejes de Sonar (Don’t Stop Dreaming). It was filled with little sticky notes that people left with motivational quotes and inspiring words. It also had lots of cute decor, and would be the perfect store to buy a unique gift at. I couldn’t find a webpage for it, but it is located on Calle las Huertas in Plaza Jacinto Benavente.

cutestoremadrid

My favorite part of going to Madrid during December was that there were Christmas markets everywhere! We all bought a few things at the markets and by the time we were finished shopping, it was time to head to the bus station and back to Bilbao (and Cadiz for one of my friends!).

xmas market madrid

Ejercicio en Espana vs. Estados Unidos

So the first thing I did in Spain (even before opening a bank account or getting a metro card) was join a gym. Throughout college, I always found myself at the gym late at night (shout out to OSU for having gyms open until 2am!) and running half and full marathons at least once a year. So I knew once I got to Spain, I wanted to keep working out. I’ve been here for almost two months, which has given me enough time to try a few different workout classes and spend enough hours at the gym to really notice some differences. So here’s my top 5 differences between gyms in Spain and gyms in the US that I’ve noticed. 

1. Locker rooms: In the US, people are more private in the locker rooms. Here in Spain, women literally have conversations in the locker room completely naked and it doesn’t phase them.

2. Cleaning machines: In the US, after you are done using any machine the first thing you usually do is head over to grab a wipe to clean it. Here, nobody cleans machines after they are done using them. There isn’t even the option to clean the machine after, as there are no paper towels or wipe dispensers anywhere.

3. Metric system: This is obvious, but I totally didn’t think about it before I came. The weights are in kilograms and the treadmills are in kilometers/hour. The first day I walked into the gym and went to get free weights, I stood in front of them for a solid 5 minutes picking them up to see how they felt to me lol.

gym

4. Cycling classes: The cycling classes here are awesome! It’s like being in a discoteca. The instructor is like a DJ. They mix different songs together but also change the lighting throughout the class. There is literally a disco ball in the middle and it is awesome!!! In the US, in the cycling classes I have taken, the instructor leads you through different hills or intervals and motivates you. However, here, the instructor leads you through different songs. For example, there will be a song with a faster beat, so you pedal faster, etc. It’s really cool and makes the class go by quickly. Most of the music is also American, which is nice for me. So even if I don’t understand everything the instructor is saying, I can understand the music :)

5. Equality: In the US, especially at the gyms at OSU, there is always a clear divide: girls are more in the cardio area and guys are in the weight area. Here, it’s equal. It’s nice because at OSU when I would go to the gyms, I literally never went to the weight area because all the bros were there and it was honestly intimidating. But here, it’s fine. I don’t feel out of place if I want to lift weights (which I don’t really like to do anyways lol but if the rare occasion comes where I want to lift a little, it’s fine).

I’ve also been trying different fitness classes and I will say that I took a yoga class and it was the most unrelaxing yoga class of my life because I had no idea what I was doing–not because I’ve never taken yoga, but it was sooo hard in another language! I can understand conversational spanish when people are speaking directly to me, but following the instructor in the class was a mess! As I’m still learning spanish, I still need it to be spoken slowly and clearly to understand, but in yoga classes it’s too hard to hear the instructor. I’m not kidding when I say everyone was in a downward facing dog and I was like 5 poses behind. The lost American in a class of Spaniards….that was me lol. So I think I stick to classes based on music, like cycling and zumba, until my spanish gets better!

But I have noticed that exercise is a priority here in Spain (specifically, Basque Country, not sure about the rest of Spain). In Bilbao there are bicycle trails along the roads and sidewalks and many people run and cycle along the river every night. Also, every fitness class I’ve ever been to at the gym is completely filled. While everyone here enjoys partying and going out, I’ve noticed that most people equally enjoy exercise and staying fit! 

Top 5 Things About Basque Country (so far!)

So I’ve been here for less than 2 weeks, but I’m already really enjoying being in Basque Country! It seems like I’ve been here longer than I have, but I’m getting into the swing of things. I feel like I’ve done so much in the 11 days I’ve been here. I’ve been to the coast of Spain, Vitoria, gone out in different neighborhoods in Bilbao, spent time in countless cafes, and even made a few friends (woo!). Since I’m clearly such an expert now (11 days living some where makes you an expert, right?), here’s my top 5 things about Bilbao so far (and they all start with P because I thought that would be cool**): 

1. People: Before I came here, I read that people in northern Spain weren’t as friendly as the ones in other parts of Spain. From my experience, everyone has been SO helpful and friendly in Bilbao and around Basque Country. My spanish isn’t very great, and there have been a few times in the city where I’ve been trying to do something on my own (like opening a bank account, finding a store to unlock my phone) and even though I was speaking in Spanglish, people were more than happy to help me. A guy at a store even drew me out a map of Bilbao and told me where all the stores that unlocked phones were and how to get there. I was a little nervous that northern Spain would be similar to Italy for me, but it has been the complete opposite.

2. Pinxtos: No words necessary.5things1

3. Plazas: I love the plazas throughout the city. During the day, people take their morning breaks in the plazas and walk through them to get to work. During the night, they are filled with people of all ages drinking and enjoying themselves. The other night, we went out in Casco Viejo to Plaza Nuevo. Plaza Nuevo is a big square plaza, surrounded by bars. There were people in their twenties like me, but also older people, babies and even dogs at the bars. It was so fun to bar hop in the plaza, and be able to take your copa de vino with you  (no open container law in Spain!).

4. Public Transportation: There are multiple ways to get wherever, whenever in the city. There’s a tram, tons of bus routes, a (really, really clean) metro and a train. Also, Bilbao isn’t that big so you can walk pretty much anywhere within 15-30 minutes. But if you don’t want to walk or want to go to another town, it’s so easy to hop on the metro or take a bus. Everything is also really well labeled.

5. Places: There are so many cool places around Bilbao and within Bilbao itself. Bilbao has different parts of town, like Casco Viejo, Duesto, Indauxtu, that all have different things to offer. You can take the metro from the city and be on the coast within 30 minutes for less than 2 euros. Or you can stay in Bilbao and sight see at the Guggenheim, visit a plaza, walk along the river, shop, take the funicular for a city view, go to a cafe etc. It’s a really cultural city to be in and a really unique part of Spain! I can’t wait to keep exploring! 5things2Instagram

After my adventure in Spain is over, I’ll make another top 5 (or 10 list) and see if things have changed! Adios! 

[**Side note: If wine began with a p, that would have been on the list too. Pwine isn’t a word though. :( ]

I made it!

It’s been a whirlwind so far and this is the first chance I’ve had to post, but I’ve made it to Spain! My total travel time to get here was over 24 hours, so I was EXHAUSTED by the time I arrived. I booked my flight through STA travel because it’s really cheap if you are a student or under 26, but I didn’t really look closely when I booked it. Long story short, I ended up having a layover in NYC between LaGuardia and JFK, where I had to get my 70lb suitcase from baggage claim at LaGuardia, find a shuttle and then recheck it at JFK. And, I got off at the wrong terminal for the JFK airport so had to take the crowded airtran with all my lugguge to get to the correct terminal. Thank god I backpacked Europe before doing this alone, because if I hadn’t done that trip, I’m not sure I would have even been able to figure out what terminal I needed to be at lol. But it was such a pain to have to go through checking my bags and security all over again. And, when you travel internationally, you have to clear customs and go through security a third time. I was over it by the time I was in the Madrid airport.

Luckily, on my flight from JFK to Madrid, I made a friend who is also doing the auxiliar program! The seat on the plane next to me was open, so she came and sat next to me the whole flight. It was so nice to have someone to talk to during the flight and we had to go to the same terminal in the Madrid airport so it made that leg of my journey more bearable! Once I got to Madrid, I got on the plane to Bilbao and it felt like I blinked my eyes and was there! I am aupairing part time with a family here, so my spanish mom came and picked me up from the airport! She came with her mom to pick me up and it was honestly hilarious; my suitcase was huge, their car was small and lots of spanish was being spoken. When we got to their flat, we walked around Bilbao a little then I took a shower and fell asleep FOREVER. I woke up later that evening and walked outside my room and met the kids I’ll be aupairing. They are SO ADORABLE. There are two twin girls who are 6 and a boy who is 8. Really sweet kids. I can definitely tell that they will be challenging at times, but it will be fun!

The next day, I woke up and we went and got a sim card for my cell phone. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE UNLOCKED BY A FACTORY AND I PUT THE SIM CARD IN AND IT DIDN’T WORK. SERIOUSLY. So, I’m waiting to see if I can get the problem sorted out with my iPhone and until then my spanish family gave me a flip phone to put my sim card in…so I OFFICIALLY HAVE A SPANISH PHONE NUMBER. We then went on the funicular to see the whole city of Bilbao!!! 

bilbao2

 

That night, I went out with a few other people from my program. Lots of tinto de verano and  botellon. Apparently bottelon is normal as everyone in Bilbao knows and talks about it. Essentially, it’s drinking outside in public lol. So, we went to a store and bought some cheap alcohol and drank on the streets of Bilbao. Lots of vino blanco for me lol. I also didn’t even leave to go home until 4am last night and was surprised by how many people were still out. I love Spain.

Today was chill. I walked around the city with my Spanish dad and he gave me an official tour, showing me literally every corner of Bilbao. It’s a relatively small city, so very walkable. We walked for about 2 hours. I finally got closer to the Guggenheim today too! SO PRETTY!

bilbao3

 

Tomorrow if my first official day of aupairing and I’m also going to the beach and trying to open a bank account and get a gym membership (wish me luck on the last 2….)! Hasta luego!