How long have you been teaching?
I have been living and working in Spain since 1979 after obtaining a Bachelor of Education Degree in Spanish from Trinity and All Saints College, Leeds. I lived in Zaragoza, northern Spain for 3 years, teaching English. I started teaching Spanish to foreign residents from the “Club La Naranja” in Sitio de Calahonda, Mijas Costa, in 1983 thanks to the initiative of Don Iñigo de Orbaneja (whose father founded the urbanisation) and co-opened “The Calahonda Language Centre in 1987. I have been teaching in Estepona since 1996.
Do you specialise in any particular field of Spanish language learning?
Apart from preparing both adults and children for both the GCSE and the DELE examinations I would probably say that I specialise in teaching those who are intimidated by a normal classroom situation, through shyness or a lack of self-confidence.
What methods do you use?
I use my own material, elaborated over the years, naturally encompassing both passive (reading and listening) and active learning (writing and speaking). I find the most important thing is to instil confidence in my students and to help them communicate their needs. When teaching One to One or Two I can adapt my teaching and pace to the person/s I am with.. The purpose of language is to communicate, if you are able to express yourself, albeit in a simple way, with or without mistakes, you have successfully reached your objective.
What do you consider to be the greatest difficulties encountered by people learning Spanish?
The difficulty of learning any foreign language can depend on how similar or different it may be to your own mother tongue and how familiar you are with the structure of your own language.
How important is the age factor?
We are never too old to learn. Our pace might be slower, our memory failing but we will still learn something and that something can make all the difference.
How important is motivation?
If you are not motivated, why start? Motivation has to be the key factor to all learning. The most important question is “Why do you want to learn Spanish?” Perhaps all you want is to be able to learn enough to be able to get by in day to day situations, once you have enough Spanish to cover your needs you will probably feel you don´t want to venture any further. On the other hand, if you want to continue to perfect the language you will undoubtedly open up a whole new world for yourself and have far more chances of integrating as you begin to take a real interest in all things Spanish – current affairs, politics, history, literature, culture, art, music, traditions and so on.
Is it helpful if you have learned another foreign language previously?
Most definitely, that way you are more likely to understand grammar and language structure. If you don´t have any prior foreign language experience don´t let it dissuade you from starting, remember, it is the teacher´s responsibility to make things clear to you.
Is there an ideal approach to learning Spanish?
If you are really motivated you will ensure that you place yourself in situations where you have to put your Spanish into practice. It is all too easy to speak English on the Costa del Sol, so you have to make the effort, go out of your way, out of your comfort zone. I would try to get more involved, maybe that means working voluntarily one morning a week at a Charity Shop, taking up an evening class where Spanish people are also enrolled or going on an organised day excursion . Use your imagination. What other hobbies or interests do you have? What classes are being organised by your local Ayuntamiento that Spanish people are also interested in ?Dancing? Painting? Cooking?
Are there people who just can´t learn?
There are those who will never be able to reach a GCSE level for example , but everyone can learn something, if only a smattering. Even if you achieve little more than mastering the rules of pronunciation and intonation you will reap the benefits.
What percentage of your students really hope to integrate into Spanish life?
In reality very few, unfortunately. As most are retired people they already have a set lifestyle that they have brought with them from their countries of origin, so they tend to keep within their own set and safe boundaries. Younger working people have a better chance of integrating, having to use their Spanish on a day to day basis at work. Children can integrate more easily, some are lucky enough to grow up speaking 2 or even 3 languages. For them, the way things are done in Spain becomes the norm and they will have a natural interest in their social environment.
Could someone learn Spanish on his/her own - without actually taking any classes?
I believe so, if you are used to studying, have a great need to learn and are living in a mainly Spanish environment, inland somewhere or in any of the big cities. A few lessons however, will always help to get you on the right track and prevent you from adopting bad habits which wll be difficult to correct at a later stage.
Would you recommend Group Classes or One to One?
That really depends on the individual. Group classes allow students more thinking time, the dynamic of the group often helps, apart from becoming a social event for some. Others prefer one to one tuition, allowing them to reach their objective at their own pace or if they are shy, they don´t make a fool of themselves in front of others (their words – not mine!)
In general would you say that men or women find learning Spanish easier?
Women generally find learning Spanish easier, they don´t seem so afraid of making mistakes. Men can be more reticent, they often have a high, hard fought for self image, due to a successful career, which can quickly evaporate if learning doesn´t come easily
How long does it take to get to grips with the basics?
Of course that is the most difficult question to answer as it depends on so many different factors, however, if what we want to achieve is a very basic understanding of the structure of the language and to be able to confidently get by on a day to day basis I would say probably about three months, taking 3 or 4 hours a week – but it is always difficult to generalise.