What makes (some of) us Brits (myself included) so inept at learning another language? In my opinion, two reasons: laziness and the fact that we don’t really need to bother; English is the universal language across the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled all over the world and English has always served me well.
My introduction to languages was not an enjoyable one. When I was at high school we studied Latin and French. Latin, oh my goodness, Latin. All I can remember is reciting Latin verbs, for example: ībam, ībās, ībat, ībāmus, ībātis, ībant (indicative imperfect tense of the verb ‘to go’). My best exam result in this subject was an embarrassing 5%!
French was marginally better, only because I had an interesting French teacher, Ms Bromley. I used to have lots of dinasour stickers on my excercise books, so she used to call me ‘le petit dinosaur’. French exam results were slightly better than Latin – my personal best being a meagre 20%!
My ‘self-study’ journey of languages started with German, which got off to a reasonably good start. I used a friend’s ‘cassette’ based language program, which was really enjoyable. Sadly I can only remember two phrases “Ich bin hungrig” and “ich bin durstig”. I didn’t try and visit Germany – as a result I soon lost interest in learning the language.
I am not one to give up on things easily so I thought I would give French another try. Now to be fair, second time round, French became a joy to learn. Again, I used a ‘cassette’ based learning program. Fortunately I had friends in France and I visited them regularly – this really made a difference. Thrown in at the deep end, for example in Paris, really pushed me to learn and remember words and phrases.
Fast forward to 2013 and the start of my travels in Latin America. Prior to departure I’d met a lot of people who told me that I should have some Spanish under my belt “it’s going to be tough otherwise”, they said. I thought they were joking at first. In South East Asia, everybody in the tourist related industry speaks English, why should it be any different in Latin America!
Anyway, as a result of the advice, I decided to take some Spanish lessons. It proved to be a disappointing experience. The people who said there were beginners were actually intermediate. Those who said they knew nothing really did know…… nothing. This made it incredibly difficult for the teacher to find a level to appease everybody. I gave up after 5-weeks, it was tortuous!
I soon got to find out that my ‘advisors’ were right, English is indeed rarely spoken in Latin America. Thankfully during my first trip I managed to absorb a lot of words and phrases and soon realised how rewarding and useful it was be to be able to speak Spanish. Year two I decided to take ‘one to one’ Spanish lessons at a School in Panajachel (Guatemala) – Jabel Tinamit. Year three I returned to Jabel Tinamit to continue with my studies. Year four I returned to be faced with ‘los verbos de Pretérito’ (perfect past tense verbs) – these proved very challenging.
Each time I visited I always had the same teacher (Patricia) and I always stayed with the same host family who pushed me to talk in Spanish. This year I returned yet again. I was chuffed to bits when Patricia commented on how my Spanish had improved. Success at last – que bueno!
So, if you really want to learn a language, chose one that you will use on a regular basis, chose one that you will enjoy learning and, most of all, immerse yourself.
¡Hasta luego amigos!
Above: Graduation day with my Spanish teacher Patricia .