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Mr Grumpy goes back to School

By Mr Grumpy - Thu 22th Jul 2010

After almost 6 years in Spain, I have made no formal attempt to learn the language. I say ‘formal’ because I had studied a language ( German ) in the past and knew that I had a pretty good memory, and started of being pretty confident that I could pick it up as I went along.

My memory did indeed serve me very well – and I learned quite a lot of useful vocab - just not the required grammar that went with it, and as such, like many Brits my ‘conversation’, as it was, was really a string of words that I put together and simply hoped that I could make myself understood.

As you might expect, sometimes I got by, other times my attempts at learning were pretty shameful.

As an Englishman the problem lay firmly in the fact that English people are rarely taught English Grammar to a standard that is good enough to be able to take the basic rules with them to a different language. As soon as I look at a Spanish Grammar book that mentions a ‘subjunctive’ or ‘past participle’ I either get a headache or skip straight to the vocab bit, which I don’t really need.

A bit of spare cash, combined with a spare week (and my daughter’s impending first year at Spanish school) gave me the kick up the (insert word of your choice) that I needed and made me look closer into taking some formal lessons.

I spoke to the guys at Cactus Language, explaining what I perceived my level of understanding to be, and what I wanted to achieve in the time and budget that I could spare, and where I wanted to be. For example I could have chosen to fully immerse myself in the culture and avoid all other distractions by staying with a Spanish family in a different part of Spain, but work and family constraints meant that a course in my local town was better for me.

I took their advice and booked a combined course online – which meant that I would have two group lessons of 90 minutes in the morning, each with a different teacher, followed by a 1 to 1 lesson of 45 minutes after a short break.

My concerns that my money would be wasted by my being put in a group that was either more advanced or a bit slower than myself, were solved by taking an aptitude test on my arrival to see exactly what my level of understanding was. I was quite pleased to find that I fell into the ‘Intermediate’ group.

With just 6 of us in the group, from all nationalities : American, Swedish, Russian, German and English, it stood to reason that the temptation to speak English at any point in the course of the morning was practically zero – which was exactly as I would have hoped.

Make no mistake, a 20 hour 1 week course is nowhere near enough to arrive at a high standard of understanding of the language, but it was enough to move me further along the curve and give me a little more confidence to go out and actually use a bit of the language that I had learned so far. It also gave me a much-needed opportunity to get rid of my (many) bad habits that had formed over the years.

I can even take a further block of lessons later in the year when I have had the opportunity to learn and digest the things I had learned, and when I have the required time to spare.

Time will tell exactly how further along the curve it will get me, but I am determined to shake off the ‘English disease’ of being ‘linguistically impotent’.

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