Fun Ways to Increase Your Language Exposure Abroad

Maple Buescher headshot
Maple Buescher
April 18, 2024

I’ve known for the past several years that I wanted to study in Spain.

For even longer, I have known that I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-dominant country. The primary goal of my semester overseas was always to increase, as much as humanly possible, my Spanish exposure and abilities.

But I’ve learned this semester that it isn’t as easy as just being in the country. I am studying in Madrid, which is extremely English-accommodating—that is, most service workers are bilingual, and many try to speak with me in English when they hear my accent. It isn’t uncommon to see English-language advertisements on the streets or to hear English announcements on public transit. And IES Abroad is not a language-pledge program, meaning that many of my classmates exclusively speak to each other in English.

So it isn’t as easy as just being here. My goal is to grow my Spanish, so I’ve had to be mindful of taking extra, individual steps to make that possible. Some of my steps are intuitive—for instance, I take notes of every unfamiliar word I’m exposed to in class, and make (and actually study!) one massive Knowt flashcard set. But some of them are less obviously “studying,” and less obviously hard.

I’ve had to be deliberate about exposing myself to as much Spanish as possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s been boring. Here are some of my favorite tricks for increasing your language exposure in a way that’s fun and enjoyable.

1. Read

I know, I know. Everyone says this, and it’s hard, stumbling through a dry novel in a foreign language. But I promise it can be fun, too!

My big tip is to pick a novel that you’re already vaguely familiar with (or have even read before in English) to begin with. And pick a book that excites you, too! My goal for the semester was to make it through the entire Hunger Games trilogy—I’m currently on the third book, Mockingjay, or Sinsajo in Spanish—and my friend is reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. Pick a book whose outline you know and enjoy!

2. Watch TV

In my book, it counts as studying and not leisure time if it’s in your target language! The Society of the Snow (La sociedad de la nieve) is a new and popular option on Netflix. My go-to fun adventure murder-mystery show is Alta mar, and I’ve heard good (if gory) things about La casa de papel too.

Try to avoid putting on your native-language subtitles, but target-language subtitles are an awesome tool.

3. Go to the theater

I’ve been lucky to find a friend who likes musical theater as much as I do! We’ve already been to see Matilda and have tickets to see The Book of Mormon—both, of course, in Spanish. If you don’t enjoy musicals, regular plays are fun too. Once again, it can be helpful to pick plays whose plots you already sort of know, or something that relies on jokes beyond language (like the physical comedy of The Play That Goes Wrong, which I hope to see before I leave Madrid).

Even if you don’t feel confident enough with your target language to understand everything, I promise it’s worth it to just let the words wash over you and get the sound in your ears.

4. Talk with native speakers

Easier said than done, I know, but there are a few ways to do this. If you’re in Madrid like me, your center arranges weekly intercambios – literally “exchanges”—to speak with native Spanish university students. If you’re taking classes at a local university, be brave and make friends with your classmates; if you can, seek out the opportunity to volunteer with a local organization to be forced to talk.

Above all, my best advice is to live in a homestay. It is the most joyful experience I’ve had in Madrid, and definitely the best for my language development. If you don’t get a homestay, live in a dorm alongside local students and try to talk to them; living alone in an apartment will do the least for your language skills.


Above all, be brave, and go out of your way to try. It’s easy to sit at the dinner table and not talk, but you will get more out of your semester if you do. Likewise, even in a foreign country, it’s often easy to speak English with the waiter, the bus driver, the hotel staff, and it’s even easier to consume the same media you did at home, listening to English music and reading English books and watching English TV shows.

But living abroad, you have the best and most immersive experience to develop in your target language that you will ever get. Go out of your way to get the most out of it that you can.

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Maple Buescher headshot

Maple Buescher

Hi!! My name is Maple and I'm a junior at Bates College, where I am a member of the sailing team, the orchestra, and everything in between. I am the Editor in Chief of our student newspaper and am interested in pursuing a journalism career.

2024 Spring
Home University:
Bates College
Political Science
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