What was your motivation to start learning Spanish?
Like all good stories, this one begins with a girl, or rather, a woman. She was the physiotherapist I was seeing while training for my blackbelt. She was from Chile, and as a way to distract me from the literally eye watering pain she inflicted upon me on a fortnightly basis, she would tell me about her home town and try to teach me some basic Spanish words. I promptly forgot most of what she taught me, blocking it all out with the pain.
When did you begin?
While studying my undergraduate degree online, the University offered a couple of Spanish courses, which having been regularly attacked by a small Chilean woman, seemed like a great opportunity to start (continue?) learning the language. As it was via correspondence I had very limited success, I was living in a small-ish country town with no one to practice with. It was however, enough to really get me hooked on the language. Several years after my attempt through the Uni I moved to Melbourne. It must have been fate as I was living on the 86 tram line and noticed a shop with a very colourful front window…El Patio! It immediately went onto my to-do list. Later that same year I was invited to a wedding, in Granada, and that was really the spark that lit a fire under me and started my 'proper' Spanish studies.
How did you start - group classes, online, CD, book, podcasts, in the street ...?
Correspondence classes, while technically a start, did very little for my understanding of the language. I played around with a few free apps on my phone, but I feel like I didn’t actually start learning anything useful until I finally enrolled in a Rápido class at El Patio in 2016. It’s amazing how much difference a structured class and a room full of like minded people, (who I still keep in touch with) can make to the learning process.
Have you travelled or lived in a Spanish speaking country?
The wedding that really got the ball rolling was in Granada in September 2016. I was lucky enough to have just finished my degree, and got time off work as well so I was able to have a bit of an 'explore'. My conversation skills where quite limited (dos cervezas por favor) but three weeks of eavesdropping on conversations in the street, and bilingual walking tours every other day was a real eye opener.
Do you have a current goal, and if so, what is it?
I would love to one day be as comfortable speaking in Spanish as I am in English. Along with the regular goals of travelling to more Spanish speaking countries, I would also LOVE to make the opportunity to spend an as yet undetermined amount of time living in the South of Spain, Sevilla or Granada, much to my mother’s disapproval as I '…don’t visit enough as it is'.
Do you have a particular study schedule apart from your group class?
As I have a very irregular work schedule, and I have started my Masters, regular study time has become quite difficult to lock down. Homework and pre-reading often occurs the morning before my next class (sorry). I have a few apps on my phone that I use when I have a spare few minutes, waiting for a train or for dinner to finish cooking, but nothing as regular as I would like it to be.
What do you think is the most challenging thing about learning Spanish?
Easily the most challenging thing about learning Spanish would have to be my English. Until I started at El Patio and had very limited understanding of the technical side of the English language (being a giant maths nerd at school) and that fact that verb tenses have special names, literally blew my mind! Of course, this made understanding the Spanish verb tenses as they were explained as I had no real frame of reference to compare them to.
What is your most effective method for memorization?
When I hear a new word I always try to associate it with something related to an English version of the word. For example, conducir sounds a bit like conductor, and I think of a tram conductor driving the tram. Sometimes this trips me up when a word sounds like the opposite in English. I haven’t worked out a good way around that yet. Failing that, I write everything down, and talk to myself while writing it down. I won’t always remember the meaning, but I almost always remember having written it down 'in here somewhere'. After the 5th or 6th time hunting through my book the words start to stick.
What are or have been your most helpful resources? (eg, podcasts, songs, books, websites ...)
One of my most helpful resources is my job. I drive a forklift, which gives me around 8 hours a day where I can listen to anything my heart desires. I have several Spanish Spotify playlists saved to my phone, and more podcasts and audio books than I can poke a stick at. Something for every mood – loud, energetic music to get me going in the morning, something a bit more restrained for when the boss is in ear shot, educational podcasts some Spanish audio books. Anything I can get my hands on to help immerse me further makes a huge difference. I try to keep the ball rolling when I get home, and have set my Netflix account to Spanish as well, though some days I cheat, and binge watch a series in English.
What is your advice for anybody starting out learning Spanish?
Get as much exposure as you can, without burning out. Even a little bit everyday helps me keep 'thinking Spanish', and I find that the more I watch or listen during the week, the easier my next class will be, and the less nervous I get when it is my turn to say something.
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By Penelope Ray, Zac Powell
January 28, 2018
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