Whenever you start studying a new language, you take a plunge into a whole new world you never knew about. The first things we learn are vocabulary and grammar which are the duo that form the basis of learning a new language. Although essential, sometimes studying grammar and vocabulary can get a bit boring. Luckily there are many other parts that make up understanding a language.
The part that I have found to be essential and as important as being in the classroom is trying to understand the culture of those who speak the language. This is how you can survive in different countries and not feel like an outsider when you don't want to seem like another tourist. When I arrived in Spain for the first time I had no idea what tapas were or why there were lots of regions in Spain that wanted to become independent. I had heard rumours that we could have a long sleep in the afternoon but I didn't know how it worked! Does everything close? Is it just for certain people who work in offices?
Of course, the best way to learn about the culture is to research it. You have to read about the history, music, traditions and arts. You have to visit museums, go to concerts, visit attractions and, most importantly of all, interact with the people. They are the masters of their own culture and can explain anything about it from their own perspective. You have to take the plunge into these experiences and try to immerse yourself in every aspect of life in the country.
With every other part of studying a language, you have to be very careful and avoid the pitfalls. In this case, you have to be careful that you don't fall into the tourist trap. When I revisited Spain a few years later I decided to go to rural Spain. The difference between the tourist areas and the rural areas was phenomenal. Throughout the tourist areas every single café and bar was advertised as a tapas bar. It wasn't until two years later that I managed to eat real tapas that was traditional and made from beautiful local products. It was worth the wait and was a tasty experience!
What do you think is the best way to learn about a country's culture?