James Taylor moved to Spain about a year ago and during this time has climbed through the different levels of Spanish to become fluent. His only secret is his passion for the Spanish language and culture. We would like to share his learning experience with you all, as it will be for sure be inspiring for current and potential students.
1. What brought you to Spain? And WHY Andalusia and a small town in the Serranía?
I first came to Andalucia on a cycling holiday, and I came back a few times before moving over to work for that same company. That was in a village north of Ronda. I now live in Ronda itself. The Serrania de Ronda is a great place to go cycling or walking if you like hills, and the white villages (pueblos blancos) around here are stunning. Ronda is the jewel in the crown!
2. Why did you start learning Spanish? Had you ever studied Spanish before moving to Spain?
I was doing a lot of trekking and mountaineering in South America and couldn’t speak a word. That was quite frustrating. That along with coming to Spain with my bike made it a no brainer to start learning Spanish. I did a complete beginners course, about 20 hours, in Glasgow just to get me going. That was before I knew I would be moving here.
3. In only one year you have reached a B2 level, and only through extensive lessons. How did you manage to get this understanding of the Spanish language and culture so quickly?
I started at Entrelenguas in May 2015 on one day a week at level A1 and then moved to two days a week after I moved to Ronda. Apparently I was quite quiet to start with!! I have kept up with the classes irrespective of anything else that has been going on. It has been the one constant in my time in Spain. I also worked and lived with a Spanish family for 3 months and that was definitely a contributing factor in moving up to B2. And of course Mar and her team have been amazing. I would go as far as to say that if it wasn’t for Entrelenguas I might well have returned home. They have created such a comfortable environment for us to learn in. As well as Spanish classes they usually put on 2 or 3 events for us each month like Spanish film nights or a BBQ by the pool.
It’s safe to say that Mar has pushed me up the levels. When she thinks you are just about ready for a new level she will invite you for a taster and before you know it that’s your new level. I’ve always gone with Mar’s recommendations. It’d be easy to stay at a comfortable level and take a break but I prefer to take a deep breath and accept the challenge!
4. I imagine learning a second language can be frustrating and very difficult at times. How have you dealt with these feelings?
Yes it can be frustrating but you just have to push through it. Apparently the best language learners are those who don’t worry about making mistakes. I wouldn’t necessarily put myself in that bracket as I am quite conscious of saying something daft but making mistakes is something I have become less worried about as my Spanish has improved. I’ve found that you have less bad days the better you get. When you start out you can have a bad day and it can really get to you and you feel that you’re not making much progress. But it’s a great feeling when everything comes together and you have a breakthrough. I used to dread doing audio exercises where we listen to some natives speaking at a hundred miles an hour and try and decipher what they are saying. Comprehension has always been the toughest thing for me but I really enjoy doing those exercises now and it’s worth it to see Mar punching the air when you nail one!
Moving to a new level can also be a bit intimidating as your new classmates are so good. I try to use this as an inspiration and aspire to speak as well as they do. You soon feel at home in your new level. B1 to B2 felt like quite a jump. Everyone is just talking away, the teacher is speaking more naturally and we complete units of work more quickly.
5. Would you have any recommendations for potential students of Spanish? How could they make the most of their learning experience?
It seems obvious but being in the country of the language you are learning is obviously a big advantage. Doing two hours a week in your home country along with an hour of homework just doesn’t give you the exposure you need if you want to progress quickly. For example, it’s so much easier learning the words for food in Spanish if you go and buy them from a Spanish supermarket rather than looking at a picture in a book.
I also find it useful to use different tools to aid my learning. I read that the more extra work you put in the quicker you will progress. Apart from going to Entrelenguas, I have an app on my ipad for learning vocab and I also listen to a podcast that teaches you Spanish in 20 minute lessons. I don’t feel like doing all these things all the time but if I don’t fancy one thing I can do something else!
Another thing I have found quite useful is watching the news in Spanish most mornings. You can an idea of what’s going on in Spain and you can quite quickly pick up what they are talking about.
Finally, if you get the chance to spend an extended period with native Spanish speakers though work or having a Spanish flatmate then do it. The more exposure you get the quicker you will progress. Also go out and about and practise. I used to be afraid to go into shops in case I got myself into a mess. This month I went into a shop and ordered broadband. It was just like a normal conversation. It felt amazing!