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My Journey Learning Spanish

¡Hola! Today, I'm thrilled to share with you my incredible journey of learning Spanish. As an avid language enthusiast, I've always been captivated by the beauty and richness of different cultures, and Spanish, with its melodious tones and vibrant heritage, immediately caught my attention. Over the years, I've embarked on a remarkable adventure, immersing myself in the world of Spanish language and latin culture. In this blog, I aim to take you through the highs, lows, and invaluable lessons I've learned along the way.

Why Spanish?

My first encounter with language learning was the summer before starting secondary school. My mum suggested that I prepare for French classes. She had studied French in school and assumed I would too. So, she taught me beginner-level French vocabulary such as colours, days of the week, months of the year, and greetings. I practised every day using the flashcards, worksheets, and other learning materials she had prepared for me.

However, when school started in September, I was surprised to find out that I hadn't been placed in the French class. I was placed in the Spanish class! All the French vocabulary I had spent my whole summer holidays learning was no longer needed for school.

Despite the unexpected change, I ended up studying Spanish in secondary school for five years. The first three years were mandatory, but they taught me enough to develop a passion for the language. It was during this time that I discovered a fascinating connection to Spanish: my great-grandfather was Cuban. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, the language wasn't passed down through the generations. Determined to revive Spanish within my family, I made it my personal mission to become fluent. To further pursue my language studies, I decided to take Spanish as a GCSE.

I had two classmates who were fluent in Spanish, and I found myself constantly comparing myself to them. My focus on their progress ended up overshadowing my own joy and confidence in learning the language. Consequently, I decided not to pursue Spanish as an A-Level in sixth form.

However, this setback didn't deter me from continuing to learn Spanish on my own terms. I had set important life goals that hinged on becoming fluent in Spanish. These goals included travelling, working abroad, teaching my newborn sister to speak Spanish, and raising my future children to be bilingual. I possessed the motivation and determination to learn, but I knew I didn't want to do it within the confines of a school setting. Therefore, I took it upon myself to self-teach and embarked on a personal language learning journey.

How I Acquired Spanish?

I've always been fascinated by languages, and learning Spanish was no exception. At first, my language learning sessions consisted of the typical methods: Duolingo and a grammar book from WHSmith. I wanted to make sure I was using the most popular options, so I dove into those resources headfirst.

I knew that if I wanted to truly master Spanish, I needed to immerse myself in the language and culture. That's when I started going to Latin parties and learning how to dance salsa and bachata. Not only did I become a better dancer, but I also had the opportunity to meet native Spanish speakers.

I listened to a lot of Latin music and watched many telenovelas to improve my listening and comprehension skills. I even had the chance to travel to Spain for long weekend trips and stay with a local family in San Roque. With each trip, I noticed that I was able to understand more and more.

But despite all these experiences, I realised that I wasn't giving myself enough opportunities to practice speaking and writing in Spanish. I had developed a bad habit of listening in Spanish and then responding in English. That all changed when I went to Cuba for around 3 weeks. There, I was forced to speak Spanish daily and became acutely aware of all the areas I needed to improve upon.

When I returned home, I started a studygram account on Instagram to keep myself accountable. I shared my notes, resources, and tips to inspire others to learn and stay consistent with their studies.

As I continued to study Spanish, I found so much joy in sharing my journey and helping others that I decided to become a teacher myself. I enrolled in a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course to become an English teacher, but I didn't stop there. I also took an ELE (Enseña Español Como Lengua Extranjera) course to learn how to teach Spanish as a foreign language. I wasn't planning on teaching it to others at that stage, but I wanted to learn it from another perspective and pick up tips to improve my self-teaching skills, as of course I was my own teacher.

That's when I stumbled upon Neurolanguage® coaching. I was hooked by the concept and enrolled in a course to become a coach myself. I learned how the brain processes languages, how to create an optimal learning environment both internally and externally, how to build and maintain high motivation levels, and how to quickly achieve fluency.

Applying all that I learnt meant that my language learning no longer consisted of typical methods that worked for the majority. Rather I incorporated techniques that were personalised to me and the way I learn best. I also made more effort to acquire the language by immersing myself in the language and culture daily. I connected with a native speaker on Italki and had daily conversation practice sessions. I also stayed in contact with friends I made in Cuba and attended twice-weekly meetings in Spanish. The language truly became a part of my life, and I couldn't be happier with my progress.

My new approach to acquiring Spanish has not only helped me progress rapidly but has also changed the way I think about language learning. Instead of simply memorising grammar rules and vocabulary lists, I focused on understanding the language in context and immersing myself in the culture. This approach allowed me to make significant progress in a short amount of time, and I realised that I could help other language learners do the same.

Lessons Learnt

Through my experience, I learned that one of the biggest obstacles to language learning is the tendency to compare oneself to others. It's essential to remember that everyone learns at their own pace, and progress should be measured by individual goals, not by others' achievements.

Another crucial lesson is to use a variety of authentic resources to practice reading and listening. This includes reading books, watching TV shows and movies, listening to music, and engaging in conversations with native speakers.

To truly master a language, one must also give themselves daily opportunities to speak and write. Practice makes perfect, and the more you use the language, the easier it becomes. Additionally, immersing yourself in the culture is essential for developing a deep understanding and appreciation of the language. This can involve everything from trying local cuisine to attending cultural events.

Lastly, it's important to learn the language you love doing the things you love. By incorporating language learning into your hobbies and interests, you'll be more motivated to practise consistently and make progress. Whether it's cooking, playing sports, or watching movies, finding ways to incorporate language learning into your daily life will make it more enjoyable and effective.

As I reflect upon my journey learning Spanish, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the experiences and opportunities it has brought into my life. From stumbling over basic greetings to confidently engaging in conversations with native speakers, every step has been a testament to the power of dedication and persistence. Learning a new language is not just about acquiring a set of vocabulary and grammar rules; it's about embracing a whole new way of thinking, perceiving, and connecting with others.

Beyond the linguistic benefits, my journey has exposed me to the beautiful diversity of latin cultures, opened doors to new friendships, and broadened my horizons in ways I could have never imagined. Spanish has become not just a language I speak, but a part of my identity, a bridge that connects me to a broader global community and reignited a connection to my roots which has fostered a deeper sense of belonging.

If you're contemplating learning Spanish or any other language, I encourage you to take the leap. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and immerse yourself in the beauty of a new linguistic and cultural landscape. It may be daunting at times, but the rewards are immeasurable. As the famous saying goes, "Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar" (Traveler, there is no path, the path is made by walking). So, let your journey begin, and may it bring you countless unforgettable experiences and a lifelong passion for language learning. ¡Hasta luego!

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