At the beginning of my semester abroad, I had very little confidence speaking. I was too nervous to embarrass myself by butchering the language and the local accent. However, I have learned that the majority of the natives are very appreciative of non-native speakers attempting to communicate in Spanish. My favorite coffee shop actually has a night called "Intercambio Idiomas" where expats and locals gather to learn different languages.
I have also learned just how unfocused many American schools are on languages, after hearing different exchange students from other countries in Europe speak nearly fluently after only two years taking Spanish classes in their home countries. Constantly feeling as if everyone around knows the language besides you can be aggravating at the start of things, but it has now given me a sink-or-swim attitude. I have begun putting all my energy into excelling in my language classes, watching Spanish television shows, and not being afraid to speak with locals.
I have now been here for about a month, and I have already improved my speaking skills more than all the years I've taken Spanish in the United States. Every once in a while, I am still greeted by a "Hello!" even before speaking in my American accent, or am responded to in English even if I carry my side of the conversation in Spanish. These situations no longer dishearten me -- but rather motivate me to improve.
Overall, I believe that choosing a city that speaks virtually no English was the best choice to improve my Spanish speaking and listening skills. I was always told that full immersion was the best way to learn, and my short time in Spain has already proven that to be nothing but true.
Caroline Skinner is the Spring 2019 CEA MOJO Blogger in Alicante, Spain, and is currently studying at University of South Carolina Columbia.