Learning Spanish: Harpreet
Harpreet Kaur (right) came to Barcelona to take a TEFL course but then decided that she'd like to stay and had better do a Spanish course as well.
The course was just two weeks, an intensive four hours a day and, six months later, we thought it would be interesting to see how she was getting on learning Spanish by ear, as she went along.
So how much Spanish was she learning, we asked? A bit, she said, sounding rather dubious. But learning Spanish in the country itself, it sounds ideal, doesn't it? But as Harpreet explained, it's not that simple.
Originally from Liverpool, though she did History at Manchester, she came out to Barcelona not knowing a word of Spanish and so she started from scratch. Since the course, she's been working as an English teacher and one of the problems she - and lots of other people in the same situation - has is that she inevitably tends to mix with English people in the school and, what with work and so on, hasn't the time to go to class. Living with two other teachers doesn't help either and, why, even the Columbian guy who moved into the flat two weeks ago makes no bones about the fact that he wants to practise his English.
Language learning strategies
So what strategies had she adopted to learn a bit more Spanish? "Well, I try to watch television and listen to the radio," Harpreet says, "but it's not really a conscious, regular thing. I'm not the kind of person who is going to sit down with a newspaper article for an hour and try to puzzle out what it's saying". She'd also tried an "intercambio", she said - an exchange - but the guy wasn't really interested in the language side of things. "Next time I'd make sure it was a woman!"
So what would work for her personally? "I probably need to go back to class," Harpreet confesses. "I've tried to pick it up by just living here but in my circumstance I just don't practice enough. I also feel a bit embarrassed about making mistakes and feel much more comfortable in classroom as I know everyone is there to learn". The classroom is not everyone's ideal learning environment but for someone like Harpreet it probably is.
Did she think that was true for anyone living here - that you can't learn a language just by ear? "No," she says, she has friends that have certainly managed it, "but with me it's a confidence thing". Telling yourself you can is important when it comes to learning a language and despite her apparent doubts about her own ability, Harpreet has certainly picked up the accent, to judge from the couple of Spanish phrases she came out with in conversation.
Curiously, she did in fact pick Punjabi up by ear when she was a kid. Her parents spoke to her in English, but spoke Punjabi to each other, and though she can't speak it, she can understand it without any problems... "But that was when I was a kid," she pointed out.
Improving your Spanish
"Now - after six months - I feel I should speak a lot more, and so I'm even more reluctant to try my Spanish out, so I don't improve as much as I might: it's Catch-22."
All right, so what advice would she have for anyone coming out here to teach English and wanting to learn Spanish too?
"You've got to be serious about it, be dedicated and go to every class... And be patient, and try and have fun and relax and think 'it's ok to make mistakes'," Harpreet says.
And how long was it going to be before she'd be speaking decent Spanish? "Oh, about a year," Harpreet says. A year? But she'd had six months already! "No, I mean a year from now," she laughed. "By this time next year I hope to be to able to hold a conversation and feel comfortable about it too...! Fluency...? Oh, three or four years!"
Eighteen months? That sounds like a reasonable sort of estimate.
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