Go volunteer with a Spanish-speaking community? Take salsa classes? Eat at an authentic Spanish restaurant owned by natives?
You would if you could, right?
You want to immerse yourself in Spanish, but all the recommendations you’re seeing are just for city-slickers.
Learning from home is great in moderation, but you’re still looking for outside opportunities.
Bigger metropolitan areas tend to be more international, drawing in immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries with job opportunities, colleges and universities, existing Spanish-speaking communities and many more attractive features.
So, it’s only natural that there’s a multitude of diverse cultural events at the average city resident’s disposal. Learning Spanish in an environment like this can be much easier than in a less international place. But what about the smaller cities? The suburbs and the farm towns and everything in between? How can the people who live in these places still learn a foreign language with much less exposure?
3 Types of Resources for Learning Spanish at Home in a Small Town
In these instances, learning takes place primarily at home. Much like learning in an urban environment, learning Spanish through independent study will encompass three main types of practice: e-learning, traditional media and communication sources, and in-person, immersive activities.
The difference is that the probability of in-person conversation practice and immersion is much higher in an area densely populated with Spanish-speaking immigrants, whereas those living in more homogeneous communities will probably need to utilize e-learning the most out of all three learning schemes.
Whether you prefer the small town lifestyle or are in transition between career moves, you can still effectively learn Spanish and maintain your achieved comprehension level.
When an expansive selection of classes and practice opportunities is not available, we’ll start with the basics…
E-learning at Home
Like it or not, when faced with less options, more responsibility falls on students to teach themselves, so to speak. Here are tips to help keep you motivated and disciplined!
- E- books. If you haven’t already tried free Spanish e-books, there are plenty of databases online at your disposal. Whether you’re on a budget or simply enjoy the convenience of e-reading over traditional print, this is an often overlooked resource.
- Virtual flashcards. Does anyone else remember learning multiplication tables with flashcards? If they work for grade school kids, they can work for adults, too! FluentU has tons of virtual flashcards to choose from. And if you’re not satisfied with those, you can try a variety of other fast-paced online card sets.
- Language games. Playing games while learning increases retention because you’re more actively involved in trying to solve whatever riddle, sequence or pattern is in front of you. You then begin to make connections through syntax that you otherwise might miss. Plus, who doesn’t love to win? Here are five games to start with.
- Internet conversation partners. There are many options to have online conversations in Spanish via email, Skype and other online platforms. Conversation Exchange lets members create a profile specifying the languages they speak, those they want to learn, their age and preferred method of contact. You can then search for potential language partners by zip code.
- Music. Spotify and Pandora, two of the most popular online music streaming companies, both have Hispanic music—and entire playlists devoted to it—in case you’re unfamiliar with this music scene. Listening to music regularly, even if it’s simply background noise, is also a type of language immersion. You get more and more used to the sounds native speakers make and, even if you don’t understand much, you’re getting a tonal education.
- FluentU videos.WIth FluentU, you’ll get immersed in the Spanish language without even having to get up from bed. Its videos will teach everything from grammar and vocabulary to pronunciation and cultural curiosities in a fun and engaging way. Give FluentU a free try and start learning now!
- Movies. Film is another educational avenue to not only become conversationally fluent, but culturally fluent. If you use up the Netflix supply of international shows and films, try your local library. Many people don’t realize they’ll have shows and movies to borrow, as well as books. And, of course, there’s also the traditional video store (if you can find one!) that should have a decent Spanish language section.
- Radio. There’s a lot of great talk radio you listen to online, like Spanish Public Radio. If your town is within a big city’s broadcast range, you can tune in locally with plenty of stations broadcasting in Spanish like KRZZ (San Francisco) or WYLEY-FM (Chicago). If you’re far, far away from anything resembling a big city, you can always go to big city radio websites and stream their Spanish programs online. Oh, and don’t forget about podcasts! These are ideal for downloading or streaming so you can listen while eating breakfast, working out or strolling around town.
Small Town Unplugged
Sometimes, e-learning can take a toll on you. After spending hours working on a computer at my job, I often have no desire to use the computer once I’m at home. Here are some options to continue learning and practicing Spanish without having to be connected to world wide web.
- Order magazines in Spanish. Have a secret guilty pleasure for the tabloids? Why not catch up on celebrity gossip while learning Spanish too? People, Vanidades and Alma are just some of the popular celebrity, fashion and lifestyle magazines available in Spanish. If gossip’s not your thing, then explore further—there are magazines in Spanish for any interest.
- Try newspapers in Spanish. Just like magazines, there are many local Spanish newspapers you can purchase subscriptions to, or that you can read online for free. Having a print copy delivered to your doorstep would be a nice touch to make the Spanish immersion feel more complete, though, wouldn’t it? Some major newspapers to check out for Spanish versions that can be delivered would be The New York Times or The LA Times. If you’re unsure of what’s available in your area, visit a local newsstand and see what they offer.
- Get a pen pal! There are lots of websites available for those looking for someone to correspond with. Try finding someone overseas who’s a native speaker, maybe in Latin America or Spain. Practice your composition skills by writing postcards or letters in Spanish describing yourself, your town, your job, etc. In this way, you can also learn more about a particular culture. My Language Exchange is specifically set up to help connect people with penpals looking to practice foreign language skills. There’s also PenPal World, PenPals Now and Global Pen Friends.
- Go to your local library. Sure, we all know you can borrow foreign language books at the library, but more than that, sometimes a change in environment is all the motivation you need. Even if you have reading material already, physically going to your local library provide you with a stimulating environment. If you still need something more interactive, check to see if your local branch has Mango or ask the librarian if there are any language groups that meet regularly.
- Tutor in your neighborhood. Post an ad online or in the local paper. Children and adults often need extra help when studying foreign languages. There are usually schools, businesses or non-profits set up that offer these kinds of programs and they’re always in need of more volunteers. Depending on your level, you may be qualified to help tutor elementary or high school students. From my own experience, this forces you to study more as you need to prepare for your sessions, so it’s a win-win!
- Sunday study. If you’re at all spiritual, see if there are any services nearby scheduled to be held in Spanish language.
Nothing really beats an immersive language learning activity—connecting with other people and learning from one another can really expand your own individual understanding of the language. The problem is that native Spanish speakers who’d like a new friend may be far and few between in a small town. The trick is to know where to look…
- Connect with other learners. Join a Meetup group or, if there isn’t one in your area, take the lead and start one and see if you can find others with the same interests. Spanish is one of the most popular foreign languages in the world and it’s the most commonly studied second language in the United States…odds are, there are other students around you looking for opportunities to practice as well, no matter where you live.
- Check out local colleges. Many times, local universities and community colleges host language groups and cultural events but they’re not highly publicized. Look for these and try to not only take advantage of their events, but to connect with other Spanish students and students who speak Spanish natively.
- Engage in cultural activities. There’s a saying that goes, “When you learn a language, you learn a culture.” The same can be said for the opposite. Try to learn the culture by taking dance classes, cooking classes, signing up for a new sport, etc. if they’re offered nearby. If they aren’t, plan a day to go take one single class in the closest major city. You can also watch relevant Spanish videos, like cooking and dance videos, online that will provide you with all the instruction you need. Step by step, you’ll end up learning a little regional vocabulary, a little culture and a lot more Spanish.
- Host a foreign exchange student. If you’re not able to host someone in your home, you might still want to contact placement agencies, schools and universities to find ways to interact with these students. A lot of times, they’ll plan events to try to welcome exchange participants into the community. This is a great opportunity to engage in conversation and offer your skills as a language partner.
- Volunteer at a local non-profit. There are actually a lot of small, local organizations set up to serve immigrant communities, no matter how small. Check to see if there’s one in your area. Many hire volunteers to teach ESL, perform administrative tasks and so on. Anything you do that will give you more exposure to the Spanish language, even if it seems mundane, will improve your efforts at self-created immersion.
- Check local politics. See if there’s a local consulate or cultural society you can become a part of. Many people assume that the only foreign government offices are in the capital, but in actuality, those are the embassies. There are satellite locations, or consulates, that help with various regions within a state. You’d be surprised at what’s close to you.
- Plan a weekend trip. Head to a bigger city close by to visit more diverse ethnic restaurants, cultural events and festivals. Taking a “field trip” to see the famed Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York or Mexican Independence Day in Chicago is well worth it for your social calendar and for your Spanish practice.
- Join an international volunteer organization. Lots of organizations, religious and non-religious, have local chapters and are looking for more interested participants. For example, Habitat for Humanity does a lot of work in Central America and often partners with local organizations in the U.S. for its volunteer base.
Whether you live in a pueblo or a ciudad, there are always opportunities to advance your skills!
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