We often aren’t aware of it, but language forms a large part of our core identity, by virtue of being involved in many if not all of our interactions with other people. Our accents and dialects reveal our home, and, often, our social class. Speaking well has always been associated with the upper class, for better or for worse. Some of us use slang much more often; most people will code-switch their language use depending on where they are.
When we learn a new language, all of those quirks and definitions change. My grammar is significantly worse in Spanish. I’ve picked up bits and pieces of accents from different teachers – I will always say Valencia with a heavy lisp, and I use a few Cuban idioms. Mostly, though, classroom Spanish is sterilized, international Spanish.
It’s certainly serviceable. It will get you through a workday or a basic exchange. What it doesn’t allow you to do, though, is find your own identity in the Spanish language, how you speak Spanish. Studying abroad provides the immersion experience needed to translate your identity into words and gain true fluency.
I, translated, know a lot of horse jargon and nothing about cars. I can’t roll my Rs, a legacy of an old Boston accent. Yo, traducida. My history and my self, wrapped up in expression and language usage and word choice, all in Spanish.