3 Ways Learning Spanish Has Changed Me

I don’t think there’s anybody in the world who hasn’t thought “I wish I could speak another language” at some point in their life. Well, I was the same! I used to think about how cool it would be to talk without other people understanding. Or how amazing it would be to have a friend from another country. Now that I speak a second language at a very functional level I love it. To be honest with you, learning Spanish has helped me in ways I never thought it could. I’ve seen some changes in myself and others have too.

Here are three of the biggest changes I have noticed in myself from learning Spanish:


Social Life

oldmecollage
My social life back then: pubs, clubs, booze and horrible photos.

My social life has changed dramatically since learning Spanish. As an 18-year-old, my social life consisted of going out to a bar, later to a night club, a brief visit to a kebab shop and then a long stumble or a short taxi home. That lasted until around the time I turned 22. That was my social life back then. It’s quite sad to look back on it, to be honest. The amount of money I must have spent on pints, shots, and Jaegerbombs in my youth is incredible. However, that was the culture that surrounded me. There weren’t many people my age not hitting the pubs and clubs. Everybody was everybody’s friend; they were all drunk. But these friendships aren’t real. There’s only so much that one can say over a DJ set.

Now you may think, “How has learning a language changed your social life?” The truth is, it gave me one. Most of the closest friends I have now are Spanish. Many don’t even speak a word of English. We go out for coffee, for walks, have meals, and most importantly; we talk! In Spanish of course!

I now live in Spain, so these changes were easy to me. However, they definitely started before I arrived here. I began to speak to many Spanish speakers online. I was learning about the culture directly from them.

newmecollage
Here I am now. Sights, restaurants, good company, and fun times! But I still enjoy a drink or two.

Confidence

Roughly a year ago, I had no confidence at all. I was a university drop-out. I had a dead-end job. I had little to no close friends. I spent most of my time behind a computer screen, wasting my time (and money) on computer games. I was a complete recluse.

There is one thing you have to realise if you want to start learning a second language; it doesn’t happen overnight. You are going to need time, and that time needs to come from somewhere else. I made the great decision of cutting back on my time playing computer games. I love them, but there are certainly better ways to spend your time.

For someone who didn’t communicate much with anybody, other than teammates in Counter Strike, learning a new language was hard. I started off in a group class. There I had to talk in front of other people, most of them older than me and with no common interests. I lasted the first term, and I completely gave up on learning Spanish. Another failed attempt at learning a language. Come March 2015; I found Benny Lewis’ TEDx Talk. Of course, the way he spoke about language learning had me hooked. I wanted to follow his advice, but it was remarkably difficult for me.

The first part of his course involved uploading videos of yourself speaking in a new language. I could hardly talk to my parents, let alone post a video of myself in a forum, and look for a Spanish speaker to converse with. Well, from somewhere I managed to muster some confidence and do it. I followed Benny’s Speak from Day 1 approach rigorously from then onwards.

Speaking with strangers, in a foreign language gave my confidence a much-needed boost. I started to believe in myself. I could see myself improving. I felt much happier!

Now, I am no longer the introvert I once was. I can make jokes with strangers I meet on the street, in Spanish! I don’t avoid basic social interactions. I love talking now!


Personality

This is the most surprising change I have noticed in myself since starting to learn Spanish. I suppose it ties into the change in my social life and confidence too. The best thing is, it’s not just me that has noticed this shift, others have too. I believe that when you learn a new language your personality changes. I think this happens because each language has a different way to express itself. The people are different, they have diverse backgrounds, cultures, and even the weather can change a person’s personality.

When I’m speaking Spanish, there is happiness that I feel that I don’t have in English. Many of my friends say I’m much more serious when they see me speaking in English. I often crack jokes when I talk in Spanish, or tell rude rhymes. These are things that I don’t feel we have in English.

I also think that coming from Scotland; I was born with an innate pessimism. In Scotland, we are always moaning about something. Whether it be bad weather, good weather, the English, or the price of a pint, we always find something to get our chins wagging.

That pessimism seems to go when I am speaking in Spanish. As babies, we learn everything from out surrounds. We learn how to behave, how to speak, how to laugh, how to cry. We take everything in. Our environment moulds us. Well, I think it’s the same, albeit to a lesser degree when you learn a second language. The general personalities of the native speakers rub off on you. As a by-product of learning the language from them, you also learn their mannerisms too.

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This is a typical rhyme!

 

Top 5 Problems I Have Encountered With ESL Writing

In the short time that I have been working as an ESL English teacher, I have started to notice some patterns and problems that students have learning the language. One large gap that many students have in their English knowledge is the ability to write, primarily to write formally. It pains me when a student hands in a writing task and their opening line and full introduction reads:

Hello my name is (insert full name here) and today I’m going to talk about (insert question here).

I have compiled a list of the top 5 things I believe intermediate to advanced English learners can do to exponentially improve the standard of their English writing.


1.ContractionsDon't Do It.

In a formal piece of writing, we should avoid using informal language. Finding essays riddled with contractions is common. I don’t blame them because a lot of ESL learners are first taught English with contractions and never told when is the right time to use them. Contractions are perfect the spoken language, they make things easier and help our speech flow. The fact is that many students have become so accustomed to the use of contractions that they don’t know how to write many of them in their full form.

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Setbacks In Language Learning

For those of you who haven’t taken on the challenge of learning a new language let me tell you something – it’s not all fun and games. The journey is full of ups and downs and even as I approach an advanced level of Spanish, I still encounter setbacks. These obstacles come in many forms and here are a few:

  • Not understanding a strong accent,
  • Misunderstanding what we already know,
  • The speed of native speakers,
  • Becoming bored with a language,

All of these can destroy a  learner’s motivation. When we begin our long passage through the world of language learning, we deal with setbacks on a daily basis. But as an advanced learner, the smallest defeat can temporarily shatter our motivation. Maybe we become too used to or obsessed with success that we don’t realise that it’s just an essential part of the process.

This happened to me yesterday and it did demotivate me. I was watching a TEDx talk from a man named Victor Küppers, an author from the Netherlands. However, he writes and speaks in Spanish. It seems he spent a large part of his life in Barcelona. His presentation, titled “Actitud,” was given at TEDxAndorralaVella back in 2013.

After starting to watch it, I realised I was struggling to follow him. My Spanish listening is at a level now where I very rarely have problems grasping or taking in spoken Spanish. Even if it’s the news at full speed or a telenovela. With his talk I was struggling to latch onto what he was saying, I was picking up things here and there however it wasn’t enough to fully understand what was going on.

After thinking to myself, I have put this down to the speed at which he talks. He even says himself that he speaks quickly towards the start. It got me down that I could not understand this fully. It shattered my motivation and I found myself not even trying to follow what was going on after about 5 minutes had passed. I gave up on myself, and that is the cardinal sin of language acquirement.

As beginners in language learning we are constantly met with defeats and drawbacks. Whether that be with misunderstanding, being misunderstood, receiving a bad mark or any form of negative feedback. Beginners are stuck in the bottom of a deep valley, trying their best to get out but the walls around them are intimidating. They loom over us and block our paths. However like everything else; it comes down to perspective. Once you break out clear of the valley and look down you realise that what you had previously encountered was nothing. You still have larger mountains to climb. These mountains have false summits, and sometimes you have go take a step back to take two steps forward.

 

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/inspiyr/

Victor Küppers: http://www.kuppers.com/

Check out yesterday’s post: Failure is not an option.

Check out my new personal blog: http://writtenbyben.wordpress.com

 

Failure is not an option.

So I have to say it leaves a horrible taste in my mouth, but my challenge was short lived. I failed very quickly. Today I’d like to get myself back on track and maybe set myself some more realistic goals with my language learning.

Now my first mistake was to let my blog updates stop. After I missed one update I would tell myself I’d leave it for the other but then by the next update I’d put it off again. Unfortunately that made me lose focus on my ultimate goal and my language learning.

I realise that maybe my goals were fairly ambitious. Studying everyday sometimes can just not be possible. I think I set myself up for failure without realising. As soon as you miss one day it becomes okay to miss another. Once you’ve missed a few you lose sight of where you were going in the first place.

However now I’m back, and hopefully here to stay. My language learning hasn’t come to a complete stop in my absence. I have been doing well with my Spanish and my confidence with the language is at an all-time high. German on the other hand is another story. I still love the language but after trying to learn it I have managed to make myself a bit sick of the language. I was trying a bit too hard and doing daily Italki lessons was far too much to handle and put a serious dent in my savings.

I have materials and I have books. The internet is full of material I can use to continue with my language learning and that’s what I strive to do! I will push and do what I enjoy. But this time I am going to continue doing it the way that I enjoy it.

From here I will sign off and continue on my way. I wish you all the best on your own endeavours and I will be back soon with an update.

 

3 Month German Challenge – Day 3 Update!

germany-flagDay 3 of my 3 month German challenge has arrived and I’ve been keeping a short diary of how I’ve been studying each day. Here it is:

Day 1 –

Today I topped up on Italki credits and joined the New Year Language Challenge, maybe I will be able to shoot for one of the rewards. I worked through some of Teach Yourself German and I’m almost finished with unit 7.

Day 2 –

I have a few lessons booked for the coming week and the first one is starting tomorrow. I’m really excited but nervous at the same time. Today I spent my time in-between classes working on the “Hacking German” deck on Memrise. I also walked home from work listening to German with Michael Thomas. I finished off unit 7 in Teach Yourself and ended the day with episode 1 of “Extr@ Auf Deutsch.”

Day 3 –

Today I finally had my first German lesson and I loved it. We went over some introductory questions and the teacher introduced me to some new questions. I was happy that we spoke for the majority of the time in German. I feel that I really clicked with this teacher and I have already booked some more lessons. Today I also spent some time finished unit 7 of Teach Yourself and working through some Memrise flashcards.

 

This Week’s Language Learning Goals

This week’s language learning goals:

Spanish

Old Goals:

  •  Finish “El Princepito.”
  • Continue speaking as much as I can

So I didn’t pick up “El Princepito” once this week. Instead, I did read a good amount of “Dragonball” and this weekend I had plenty of speaking practice. I went to a bar with some friends and we sat, had a few beers and played cards. Also, this weekend I did a DELE past paper to test my level. I took the B1 level and surprisingly, I found it very manageable.

New Goals:

  • Finish “El Princepito.”
  • Try the B2 past paper
  • Continue practising my speaking

German

Old Goals:

  • Continuing to work through “Teach Yourself.”
  • 100 words on A1 Memrise deck
  • Find a language partner to start practising my speaking
  • If I can’t find the above, start Skype lessons with a native speaker

I made some tremendous progress with my German this week. I’m about to finish unit 7 of Teach Yourself and I’m feeling like I’m making some progress. I picked up an A2 level book in a second-hand shop and managed to understand a good amount of the first few pages. I have scheduled a lesson for Wednesday and I’ve found a couple of language partners on HelloTalk. I didn’t quite make the progress I expected with Memrise but I did reach 60 out of my 100-word target.

New Goals:

  • Aim for unit 10 in “Teach Yourself.”
  • Continue with another 100 words on Memrise
  • Get as much speaking practice as I can

3 Month German Challenge -Day 1

I have known for a while now that I wanted to do some form of a language challenge, it was part of my motivation to start this blog. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the language I’d like to use for the challenge and I’ve decided that it just has to be German. At first, I thought I should take a language completely from scratch but since I have not long started learning German, I can’t afford to start another just yet. I’m going to dedicate the next three months to improving my German and only my German. My Spanish is easily maintained due to it being the language that I read in, the language that I socialise in and the language I speak with my friends here in Spain. The main challenges I am going to face will be exposing myself to the language. I work in English and outside of work, I am surrounded by Spanish and Catalan.

For the duration of this challenge, I plan on studying German for a minimum of 1 hour per day. This is strictly a minimum and where I can I will be putting in much more time. I also want to expose myself to native material as much as possible. My primary focus will be improving my speaking.

Daily Goals

  • Memrise/Anki flashcards in spare time.
  • One hour of study.

Weekly Goals

  • Upload 1 piece of writing for to Lang8 or Italki each week. (I plan on uploading them here too)
  • Recording myself speaking at least once a week.
  • At least one Teach Yourself unit.
  • At least one class.
  • At least one update per week.

 

In the three months, I will be working through Teach Yourself German. I will supplement this with classes (I expect these will be on Italki) and conversation partners when I can find them. By the end of he three months, I would like to be reaching a B1 level.