Today we have a guest post from Hanna Wilson, a language learner from Brighton who has fulfilled her New Year’s resolution of learning the Spanish language. But it wasn’t an easy journey as Hanna will tell you, but a very fulfilling one.
Learning the Spanish language has been a reoccurring new year’s resolution of mine for many years. My quest to learn one of the world’s most spoken languages began in high school where I took GCSE Spanish, only managing to get a ‘C’. Fast forward a couple of years to a time where I was just able to construct a few babyish sentences! Ah, the frustration of studying Spanish only to get to a point where I only knew the basics motivated me in wanting to learn Spanish even more, and once I had returned from Cuba on one of my favourite trips, I was more dedicated than ever, well at least for the most part!
My first but failed attempt began in January of 2012, and by February I had given up. I know, it’s shocking but as the good saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And in the same disappointing misfortune, the same thing happened again the following year. This time I studied the language for 2 months and gained more knowledge than I did the previous year. And while I didn’t manage to complete my resolution, I hadn’t given up like I had in the previous year. This may sound like an excuse to some language learners, but I was caught up in the trials of being a student at university in my final year, and so, my resolution got pushed back another year.
I guess it was a case of third time lucky, so last year I finally managed to follow through with my language learning. And although I am still on this very exciting journey, I have reached a stage where I am able to communicate with native speakers which is a great achievement for me.
Why the Spanish language
Well, I’ve always been a keen traveler, having ventured in many regions of the world, from Europe to North and South America, Asia, and Africa. It’s through these explorations that I have fallen in love with languages and especially the Spanish language. I decided that Spanish would be the first language I would study after a very memorable visit to Cuba.
I really wanted to be able to mingle with the locals without the strains of miscommunication because the Cuban culture really captivated me. I guess a large part of it was wanting to fully experience the true essence of a country with such a rich historical background. And honestly, that trip, became the influence behind my dedication in wanting to learn Spanish, and beyond the basics that I knew. And although I haven’t booked a trip yet, I cannot wait to return to Cuba and communicate with locals fluently.
Starting my journey as a Spanish Speaker
Ideally, I should have started my learning on the second day of January, but we all know how the New Year pans out, what we intend on doing never really happens, and instead we end up staying awake far later then we would like.
That meant that my first official day one was on the 3rd of January, on a Friday, a day where most people took advantage of the New Year’s holiday party vibe, but this language learner here, gathered herself in the dining room table on the laptop, with her books, and cd in check.
But before I actually sat down to begin my yearlong study, I thought it would be great to draw out a plan that would give me at least 6 hours of study each week. 2 of those 6 hours were spent in an evening class that I joined for 15 weeks.
Everyone has different ways of learning and for me, having a teacher to talk me through the different strategies of how things work, really engages my learning.
I also decided that the next step in learning Spanish was to go to Spain after completing my course. During my studies, I began applying for a number of different internships and jobs. Unfortunately no one got back to me as soon as I hoped. And being the new optimistic language learner that I had become, I didn’t let that obstacle hold me back so I got in touch with a good friend of mine from Toledo. We studied at university together and shortly after our graduation she moved back to Toledo to help her father run his restaurant. I spoke to her and her father kindly offered me a part time waitress job, I mean I wanted to feel useful instead of seeming like a lazy graduate who was just there to crash at her friend’s house for a free holiday. And not only that, but the job was fantastic in exposing me to the Spanish language which was just what I needed after my short course.
The Evening classes
The evening classes were a great way for me to begin interacting in Spanish after what seemed like forever. I couldn’t actually remember the last time I was in that type of environment. The class was very small with only 8 of us, this made it easier to get some one on one time with the tutor and it got us all really talking and being comfortable in taking challenges. The evening classes were also a good place to make friends and a place where I could make mistakes and be comfortable in doing so.
I joined the intermediate class meaning my fellow learners and I knew the basics. And our teacher certainly wasn’t shy of setting plenty of homework each week, consisting of both reading and writing. I found it very useful, although tough at the time. That extensive learning really pushed in helping me to remember a lot of what I had forgotten. The small environment also made it easy for me to always ask questions. Asking questions is a vital part of learning, and I would always make a note to never leave the class having unanswered questions.
Going to Spain
The next phase of my journey was to go to Spain and I was more than ready to do so, in fact I couldn’t wait to try my hands at communicating with the locals and begin learning practically. Ideally, learning should be enjoyable so the fun that I had whilst learning in Spain made the process much easier for me. And aside from learning the Spanish language, I love visiting Spain and eating the amazing food so the trip was a great opportunity for me to learn and enjoy myself.
I spent my first 3 days or so enjoying Spain and didn’t do any studying which wasn’t a good start for someone who went to a country in aid of learning its official language, yikes! Nonetheless, I went back to my schedule of studying 6 hours a week. I would normally study 3 times a week, with a day of rest in between. But being in Spain actually meant that I was continuously learning every day, especially after I had started my role in the restaurant. I would make it a rule to avoid speaking in English, although there were times where I really couldn’t find the right words, and would instead blurt out words in English.
Progress happens over time not in one day
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your linguistic abilities in a new language. Every language learner has faced an obstacle in the process of learning a new language and it is completely okay to get stuck, trust me I’ve been there on more than one occasion. Whether it’s the pronunciation of a particular word, the use of a verb in the correct part of a sentence or any other language obstacle, we all face these challenges and will overcome these eventually.
Generally in life, I like to see progress and after my first month of being in Spain, I felt as though my Spanish wasn’t at a stage where I wanted it to be. It’s very important to set realistic goals, and instead of learning at my own pace with gradual improvement, I wanted to learn quickly which didn’t work for my style of learning.
My methods of learning
I didn’t want my time in Spain to finish without effective results so every time I went out, whether it was to go shopping, a stroll to the beach or working in the restaurant, I always made it essential to take, flashcards and my phone. When I saw new words in magazines, in menus, or just about anywhere I would write these down, and go over them. It was a way of storing a glossary of words. A great idea is to try and implement these new words in conversations that you may have with locals or any Spanish speaker.
I also used my phone as a method of learning. When I spoke to people I met I would kindly ask them to conversate with me in Spanish and if they were comfortable I would record our conversation. This was a very good way of learning practically.
Reading literature is another great way of opening our minds up to new words and sentences that you may not be familiar with. I think to begin, books aimed at younger children are useful. This may sounds strange but when I first starting reading in Spanish, children’s books helped me, and from there I started reading newspapers and magazines. This is because children’s books are much simpler than those aimed at an older demographic. Another great idea is to read those aimed at improving the Spanish language, such as school books.
Another way of learning Spanish is to watch programmes in Spanish. I certainly did plenty of that in Spain and you’ll be amazed at how much you actually learn unconsciously.
After spending 5 months in Toledo, my Spanish improved dramatically. I still wasn’t at a place where I was fluent in the language so I joined another short course. I felt that I had so much information and wanted to process this correctly with the help of a teacher. I was confident that after the course I would be able to take a step closer in being fluent.
This time I took an intense class for 6 week, 3 times a week. Once I had completed the course I went back to Spain, this time to Barcelona. I went alone for a month because I was confident in being able to get by without the help of my phone, a translation application or any devise of that sort. That experience was terrifying, but it also allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and really communicate. At the end of my trip, I left being able to fully communicate in the Spanish language to a good level.
Today I sit here a year and 3 months later and I am still studying 6 hours a week, I think it’s important for me to push myself although I can communicate and hold conversations in Spanish fully. This is a great achievement for me and I intend on learning more languages, but I will certainly take it one step at a time and continue studying Spanish. I think the next language I learn can be any language, it doesn’t have to be similar to Spanish or English, because this journey has taught me that it’s not about how easy the experience is but what you take from it and how you face the challenges thrown at you.
I advise anyone reading this to give language learning a try, whether its for a job prospect, educational reasons, travel or for a challenge. It is a great way of stimulating your mind and a great way of learning about a new culture through a new perspective.