Tommy is learning Spanish. He is 26 years old and studies in Cardiff.
How are you learning Spanish?
At the moment I’m focussing on developing skills. I haven’t studied Spanish grammar for a while now as I feel I have a fairly good level of Spanish, having lived in Ecuador for two years. When I have the time I try to read news articles in Spanish. I watch movies, sometimes with subtitles depending on the movie and what dialect of Spanish it is. I listen to quite a lot of music in Spanish as well.
How did you begin learning Spanish?
I didn’t ever really make a conscious decision to learn Spanish. I moved to Ecuador in February 2014 to teach English and then I just had to learn it. You can get away without learning it as like anywhere in the world lots of people speak a basic amount of English. But if you go and live in a foreign country you do need to speak it and apart from anything else you gain so much more if you make the effort: socially, culturally, practically. I had given myself a crash course in basic Spanish using the Michel Thomas method six weeks before I went out there. But I more or less learned it from scratch.
Was it necessary to prepare in that way?
It’s difficult to remember now. I think what I learned in those few weeks paled into insignificance in the first month after I arrived there. But then even in the first week being able to say hello and ‘where is the nearest supermarket?’ probably did help in the short term.
How easy was it to dedicate yourself to learning the language?
In one way it was easy because I was surrounded by the language and I didn’t have to make the same concerted effort that someone studying it in England would have to make. Having said that I did go to Spanish classes for about 18 months of the two years I was there. I constantly had post-it notes on my walls with vocabulary. I read children’s books and later newspapers. I did make a lot of effort and I met a lot of English speakers who had been living in Ecuador for a lot longer and who spoke a lot less Spanish than me. So I don’t think it’s true that if you move to a foreign country you will just absorb the language through osmosis unless you’re exceptionally gifted at languages.
So the key is effort?
I’d say so, absolutely. That’s certainly the case for me. As much as I met people who either weren’t making the effort or didn’t have the same facility with the language as I did, I also met people who picked it up far quicker than I did. I don’t have the best memory in the world and something I used to do to learn new vocabulary was to read a news article and underline the words I didn’t know, and then go back and write them all onto post-it notes and put them on my wall. I had to make a very concerted effort to cycle things through several times or else they wouldn’t stay in there.
Can you tell us a phrase that you like in Spanish, maybe something particular to Ecuador?
All the ones that are immediately popping into my head are really rude and I’m not willing to repeat them! But here’s a decent example, and I think it’s very culturally significant to Ecuador. It’s ‘el que no llora no mama’ and it basically means if you don’t complain about something you won’t get anything. I think its very emblematic of how things work in Ecuador. A clichéd example is queuing which doesn’t happen in Ecuador – in a shop or something the person who gets served first is the person who barges their way to the front and starts shouting at the person behind the counter. And it’s not to be critical of Ecuador – I love the country – but because there’s a certain amount of corruption you don’t get things unless you fight for them.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter – @tommylumby