Learning a new language, in fact learning anything new is a challenge as we get older. For me particularly, having had time off to have my 2 children, I found it really difficult to get back into studying, however living in a Spanish speaking country I knew that I needed to do it. In college I studied Medical Physics and Physiological Measurement, heavy stuff but structured. I realised when starting to learn Spanish that I was desperate for some sort of structure or formula within the language and this lead me on a different pathway to those of your traditional “Learn Spanish” books.
I started teaching Spanish by accident really, as I was asked to hold a few classes for the local church. Teaching wasn´t an issue as I had done it in my previous job in the hospital. Over time I realised that people wanted to converse, they didn´t necessarily want to conjugate verbs or learn grammar, they wanted to speak.
I developed my way of teaching basically by watching and listening to how my students reacted to the subject. I ended up writing my beginners booklet Kickstart and later developed the voice over video to go with it as well as other mini workshop videos.
When it comes to learning Spanish there are lots of things to think about. The first really is time. We´re not at school, we don´t have a routine so basically we need to try and learn when we can. Therefore my top tip number one is:
1. Set realistic goals – telling yourself that you are going to study for 2 hours a day is not going to happen. The last thing that you want is for it to become a chore or for you to feel disappointed in yourself, this isn´t good for the mind. Allocate 10 or 15 minutes per day to study, read in Spanish or use an app.
I love teaching Spanish, it´s wonderful to enjoy your job and I always try to pass my enthusiam on to my students. I love the grammar and how it works and I find teaching these subjects easy. However, it´s like learning to drive, you can have so many theory lessons but what you need is to get out there and practice. My top tip number 2 is:
2. Practice your conversation as often as you can – There is nothing more useful to your learning of Spanish than speaking it with an actual Spanish person! Ordering your coffee, asking for your ham and cheese, making an appointment at the doctors, these are all things that you can do in Spanish. People appreciate you trying, yes they may speak English but try your Spanish instead!
As in my previous tip, you really need to do more than just have a class with a teacher and study a bit but it doesn´t have to be hard work all the time! There are plenty of things that you can do by yourself therefore my top tip number 3 is:
3. Help yourself – There is so much vocabulary that we can learn by simply studying the basics. The alphabet, the weather, the numbers, the time, the colours etc the list goes on and on. Talking of lists, write your shopping list in Spanish, we tend to buy the same things each week so why not learn these words in Spanish. Stick post-it notes on everything with their Spanish name. Watch your favourite film in Spanish. All these things will give you important and useful vocabulary without taking up class time. Watch videos on youtube.
I for one have spent many an evening staring into my text book, reading the same sentence over and over again only to realise that it´s just not sticking. However my love for learning took me one evening to my dictionary. I spent hours going from one word to another, amazed at the example sentences given and how helpful they were. Top tip number 4 is:
4. Invest in a good dictionary – I´m the first to say what a marvel these online translation apps are but I´m an old fashioned girl and I don´t think that anything beats a dictionary! I have a huge Collins one that was passed down to me by my private Spanish tutor and it was well loved then! A dictionary will give you the feeling behind the word as well as the translation. It will give you useful phrases, different options, the gender of nouns and idiomatic phrases. It´s an absolute must for me if you really want to learn.
As I mentioned above, learning a language as we get older is harder than when we´re young but not just because of our brain capacity but because of how we are as people. As a child you thow yourself into activities and you can communicate in any language with another child, as we grow some of us become embarassed, unconfident and worst of all in my case completely paranoid about looking like an idiot. This held me back for months, it made me avoid situations where Spanish could be spoken or not speak when spoken too, it made people think that I was in fact slightly rude when that is the complete opposite of who I actually am. Top tip number 5:
5. Be kind to yourself – we´re going to get it wrong, we´re going to feel silly but just laugh. It´s either that or cry! We have to put ourselves in their shoes, we would be appreciative of any none English speaker trying to converse in English wouldn´t we? I´m sure that the Spanish feel the same, just try, your efforts will be rewarded. Don´t panic when you try to speak or when they answer, take a moment and breathe, you´ll probably think of the perfect response as you´re walking away from them, so just use it next time! Don´t be too hard on yourself.
Following these guidelines has helped me greatly, especially about being kind to yourself, we often take life too seriously, don´t. Enjoy learning, make it fun not a chore, ask yourself why you want to learn Spanish? Is it because you want to or is it because you have to or feel like you should if you´ve lived in Spain for a long time.
Good luck and happy learning!