A special edition of I Learn Spanish: Introducing... My Mother!

¡Hola amigos! It's Penny - I've worked behind the scenes at El Patio for quite some time now. In fact, you've most likely received an email from me at some point! I'd like to introduce you to another El Patio student, she happens to be rather special... as she happens to be my mum!

I distinctly remember the look of fear my mum had in her eyes when she dropped me at the airport before my first big backpacking adventure to South America. My backpack only weighed 6 kilos, I was confused about having to change planes at Sydney, and had barely enough saved for my 4-month trip. I was alone, and I was just 20 years old. 

My mother's quite justifiable fear and worry turned to curiosity and awe when I returned. I brought back stories of swimming with pink dolphins in the amazon; sprinting from ruin to ruin on the misty Inca trail,  and being stranded on a giant flooded salt lake – one that acted as a giant mirror as far as the eye could see, reflecting only the occasional cloud and pink flamingo. 

Before I knew it, my parents who I'd so carefully and consistently rebelled against, were wanting to follow in MY misguided footsteps! They booked a trip to South America, and right after that, mum started coming to my workplace – El Patio – for Spanish lessons! 

She hasn't stopped travelling or learning Spanish, and nor have I! Our love for Latin America (and travel in general!) has grown and grown. After studying with us at El Patio for almost four years now, my mum is a perfect candidate for our blog series: I Learn Spanish! So I hope you enjoy this special edition.

Now, to the interview:

Cusco, Peru

What was your motivation to start learning Spanish?

Pure embarrassment! Upon travelling to South America for the first time in 2014, I was embarrassed not to be able to speak, understand or communicate anything at all in Spanish. Over the last four years I have been back to South America many times and I am pleased to say that each time I speak and understand a little more.

It's also great for the mind. I have found learning Spanish to be a great mental exercise. I can really feel different (and infrequently used) parts of my mind engaging.

I also didn't know it before, but I do now, that classes at El Patio are very social! I have met lots of interesting people in class - and I suppose that keeps me motivated too!


When and how did you begin?

I started from the very beginning at El Patio in March 2015 in a Rápido class on Saturday mornings in Northcote. 


Have you travelled or lived in a Spanish speaking country?

I think it would be almost quicker to mention the Spanish speaking countries I haven't visited! 

My first trip to South America ticked off all the major and unmissable highlights - Machu Picchu (Peru), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Iguazú Falls (on the border between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil). 

But through further travels we've gone to more exotic and less familiar places! La Paz (Bolivia), Montevideo (Uruguay), Havana (Cuba), El Yucután (Mexico) and even Cartagena (Colombia)! So many wonderful places, far too many to mention here. 


Do you have a current goal, and if so, what is it?

My current goal is simple enough, to be able to communicate with a reasonable level of comfort and ease!

Do you have a particular study schedule apart from your group class?

I always watch the SBS Latin American News, and Chile al día once a week. It is great to know what is making news in Chile as it's one of my favourite Latin American countries.

I also try to do just a little bit of revision each day using Coffee Break Spanish - just 15 minutes or so can really make a difference!


What do you think is the most challenging thing about learning Spanish?

Speaking is really challenging, it takes so long to put all the pieces together to a point where you can quickly and seamlessly call upon them in conversation. To do this takes learning all the grammar rules which is probably the second most challenging aspect!


What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are for learning Spanish?

I feel my biggest weakness is that I have very little Spanish around me to absorb, that's why I need to keep up my beloved Coffee Break Spanish and Chile al día!

I would have to say that my best asset as a learner though, is that I'm really not afraid to make mistakes. I know I'm not alone in this and I don't let it get to me! It's an absolutely essential part of the process and I embrace it.

What is your most effective method for memorisation?

For me it's all about holding onto helpful phrases, they can form the basis of so many other sentences! 

It's also important to both see and listen to words, so I make sure to include both audio and written aspects in my study (eg. listening to podcasts AND taking notes).


What are or have been your most helpful resources? (eg, podcasts, songs, books, websites ...)

My favourite is Coffee Break Spanish! I know the voices of Mark and Cara (the Scottish presenters) so well!

I also like the Spanish magazines and news shorts, particularly about the Spanish royal family. Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are a rich source of intrigue!

I've also just got into Doorway to Mexico which is a podcast developed for intermediate students to get more confident and comfortable speaking. It also delves into some of the variations in Latin American Spanish that you can't really explore at the beginning.

I also always keep my eye out for a good Spanish language SBS on Demand film.


What is your advice for anybody starting out learning Spanish?

Learning Spanish is a long process. Don't be too hard on yourself about how terrible you are at speaking! It will all come in time.

Bodega Piatelli, Cafayate, Argentina

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