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COLUMN: Intercambios: the student becomes the teacher, and vice versa



“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.”

When learning a second language, you frequently ask the same question: “Why?” But when you have the opportunity to see your native language through the eyes of someone for whom it is their second, you realize just how difficult it can be to 
explain.

Aside from classes, traveling and my host family, there is another essential component to my abroad experience.

My “intercambios,” or exchanges, are two people from the area I meet with regularly to speak with in Spanish and English, as they are trying to learn, too.

Every week my intercambio, Sole, and I follow a similar routine. We meet at the Plaza de San Marcos, grab a seat at the closest cafetería, order our café con leche and Cola Cao (hot chocolate), and begin our hour of speaking. We’re armed and ready with our “libretitas” (small notebooks) to jot down new words, phrases or grammar notes.

One week we did mock interviews together in our second languages, as she had an interview to teach English in a primary school. She will always stop me in order to correct my verb forms, and one day she even gave me a 10-minute crash course in how to 
appropriately use accents.

It’s a two-for-one deal, the perfect combination of casual conversation and grammar lessons.

This weekend we went out together for Halloween at a Bachata club, Caramelo. As soon as I spoke in English to one of my fellow study abroad students, she immediately called me out on it, turning around and saying, “Lauren! You’re in Spain! Speak Spanish!”

In addition to being an adamant Spanish instructor, she will also be teaching me the art of flamenco. Again, quite a two-for-one deal.

Though several students have just one intercambio or none at all, I lucked out and have two. My other intercambio, Juanan, meets my friend and I once a week. He usually takes us to different spots around Seville — parks, disoctecas, shopping centers — so we not only learn the language, but learn the culture and traditions as well.

We’ve taught each other quite a few slang terms, and every time we do, we 
exchange phones to write down the colloquial phrases so we can refer back to them later.

Although my intercambios are language partners, teachers and occasional Spanish dictionaries, now they are also friends. Learning grammar and new Spanish phrases is all well and good, but the relationships you form are the real 
takeaway.

As I continue to question the language I’m learning, and now my first language, too, I have been reminded of something — never stop asking questions. Not only in language, but in life. If you do, your possibilities will be 
endless.

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