There’s a maxim in language learning that claims that no one has ever learned a language in a classroom. This, of course, goes against the hours and hours Bama students spend in BB Comer studying conjugation, vocabulary, and pronunciation. For years, I have been one of those students in the classroom, religiously reviewing Spanish grammar and doing activities in class.

This trip was the first time I visited a Spanish speaking country since I started studying the language six years ago. To come to Colombia and say that I had been studying the language for six years, and still struggled to complete a simple taxi transaction was pitiful. However, it was also true.

There’s a lot of merit in the activities that go on in BB Comer’s language rooms. I learned how to speak Spanish in those and my high school classes. However, it wasn’t until I lived in a Spanish-speaking country for six weeks that I actually developed the skill. The mechanics of the language that I learned in the classroom gave me a strong foundation, but my time abroad has taught me that sometimes you just need to speak and let your instincts do the work.

By all means, take Spanish (or another language!) classes at Bama. I encourage all my friends to take a foreign language if they can, and I myself will be starting Portuguese classes in the fall. But I will also be looking for a way to get to Brazil or Portugal as fast as I can. The experiences in the classroom and out feed into each other. They are both equally important.

Traveling abroad to a foreign country to learn a language may be inaccessible. Many people don’t have the option to do so. However, especially with a language as common in the United States as Spanish, there are so many communities open to language learners. I, for one, have plans to start attending a local church that conducts services in Spanish. This will allow me to practice my Spanish consistently and meet more native speakers, even in the US.

Traveling abroad will supercharge your skills speaking a foreign language. However, even if you can’t get across the border, the most important thing is to keep trying. The more contact you have with a language (books, movies, podcasts, people), the more you learn. Warning: language learning is addicting and will change your life.