Because there are days in which I slide euphorically along the motorway of fluency, but then there are days when I stagger drunkenly into the side-lane of incomprehensibility.
Some days, when I have been writing only in English, researching only in English and reading or speaking only in English, and suddenly, the phone rings or I am running out the door to teach a Tai Chi class in Spanish. Agggghhhhhhhh!!!!
It takes time to change the language chip in your head, and this time factor increases or decreases according to your daily activities and routines. The less you work on your language, the less confident you feel to use what little you know.
The less confident you feel to use what you know, the less you work on improving it. When I feel this way - and I do frequently - I feel like I am living a life of voluntary disability for I cannot understand the world around me, nor can I make myself understood.
Thankfully, the reverse is also true, for the more I expose myself to the language, the more I want to immerse myself in it. The more I read or watch a film in Spanish, the more I feel confident to use what I am learning. To learn another language, is to become a student of life again: Every blood test, every fiesta and every coffee supped in a new bar becomes an opportunity to learn, to evaluate and to expand my understanding.
In the A.A.P.L , (Asociación de AngloParlantes de Loja) each year more and more people join up to ask about classes and methods of learning. Consequently we have devised a Four-Point Guide to start learning the language:
1. Join a Class
Start by asking at the library or town hall about organised classes for beginners. Most town halls are under pressure to respond to the relatively new phenomenon of immigration and are looking at ways to integrate this new population, so language classes will be high on the agenda. If not...then they should be!
2. Start a One-To-One
If you would rather strike out on your own and have private lessons then leave a note on the wall of your local language school, or with the local radio and newspaper. Or you could try sellotaping 'Se Busca Profesor/a de Español' to a shop door, lamp-post, neighbour or stray dog and wait to see what happens.
3. Participate in the Life of the Town and Employ Passive Activity.
Despite what you were told before you arrived here, it's not possible to learn a language by osmosis. You will not simply absorb a language by hanging around local bars. Neither is it possible to learn by only studying grammar. Forget that. Learn in a participatory way. Watch local telly, listen to the local radio, read the local paper, and try to live in town. Isolated farmhouses are great for views, parking and housing rescued donkeys, but terrible for developing conversation skills. If you do live out there, find a reason to come into town regularly, (other than to visit Lidl). Maybe join a class, visit the cinema, go to the library or even meet up with your intercambio.
4. Start an INTERCAMBIO
If you have never tried an intercambio then here is a brief run down of how they work and why they are one of the best ways to step tentatively into the culture and language of any country.
Arrange to meet with a native speaker of Spanish for a coffee. Ideally, someone you know who is learning English. Then take it in turns to try and speak to each other for a period of time, say 5, 10 or 15 minutes in one language. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are, what is more important is the effort. If your level is low, then get your friend to only ask simple things and to explain how to answer. If your level is intermediate, you can try some conversations and if it's advanced, then, well you probably don't need an Intercambio at all other than to brush up on your Imperfect Subjunctive or to iron out those confusing differences between por and para. Having said that, all Intercambios are a great way to meet people and get to know something about the area you live and its local history. No matter the level of your language, Intercambios are about integrating, learning and sharing.
Most importantly, Intercambios take the learning of language out of the classroom and into the town. They are free, and require just a little time and effort. But it still requires work. To get yourself an Intercambio, try the local advert again: Se Busca Intercambio lingüístico. Español - Inglés. Don’t be surprised if you get deluged for there is a far greater demand from Spaniards to speak with native English speakers than vice-versa.
One final tip, try out an Intercambio with several different people, and then select the best of the bunch. Seriously, the whole thing works much better when you get on well with the other person, and that's something you can't know before you try.
Most Importantly: Start today.
Intercambios are organised each week in Loja at different venues. We also organise monthly exchange sessions. See here for more info.
This article is inspired from the chapter: The Right Day to Start (Learning a New Language) from the book Inside the Tortilla. Download a sample on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo etc or grab a copy here.