Thursday 10 March 2016

Task 21: Do a beginners’ course in Spanish

I'm delighted to say that Task 36, one of my slow burners, is now completed! So let me begin this blog by saying:

Why did I include a beginner's course in Spanish on my sixtyat60 list? Well, over the years Andrew and I have taken a number of trips to Spain.  We've had buzzy weekend breaks in Madrid, Barcelona and beautiful Seville and more extended chillaxes in the Balearics and the Costa Del Sol region. We've been culture vultures, tapas tasters, sun-soakers and vino-quaffers. But whatever the activity, to my abiding shame, we've never managed to strike up a conversation in Spanish beyond the most basic hola, adios, gracias and 'la cuenta por favor' (backed up with that universal scribble gesture of course).  I've lost count of the times I've said to Andrew, 'I really must have some Spanish lessons before we visit Spain again.' 

I had a second key reason for deciding to include Spanish lessons on my list - I read about a recently conducted large study showing that learning a language helps promote brain growth, even later in life. That did it.  Time to learn Spanish courtesy of Task 21 - and rapido. 

The first step was to track down a Spanish tutor in the Uckfield area. Oh the joys of the internet. It took me just 20 minutes to find a specialist tutor, and within 24 hours, my first lesson was booked with Ines, a Spanish tutor who was born and brought up in San Sebastian, although she's lived in the UK for many years. Here she is in Lesson 1, handouts and notebook at the ready.

I had six weekly lessons with Ines, during which we moved swiftly from friendly greetings to learning numbers right up to a million and beyond (try saying 5, 555, 555 in Spanish - it's a minefield), telling the time/date, describing the weather, visiting cafes for breakfast (not literally) and much more. I conjugated verbs and began to construct simple sentences. I discovered that Spanish is a really lovely language to learn, as the grammar is quite straightforward and pronunciation isn't too scary - you just have to get rolling those 'rs'. Ines balanced endless patience, warmth and good humour with attention to detail, which was the perfect approach for me.

My biggest challenge has been learning vocabulary. But as I've memorised lists of words between lessons (see photo), I've felt my brain cells slowly and grumpily coming back to life.  I've relied hugely on visualisation and association techniques. It's best that I don't give you any examples because you'd think I'm quite bonkers (yes, I know). But as a result of using the techniques, I've managed to store and retrieve the vocab as required, which I'm ridiculously chuffed about. I do hope my brain has grown accordingly.

I attended for my sixth and final lesson last week. I said adios and hasta luego to Ines. Andrew and I have now booked a long weekend in Valencia in mid-June to celebrate the end of my sixtyat60 challenge (12 weeks to go, 40 tasks completed so far....) We're going to find ourselves a nice little cafe in the old part of the city, and I shall say to the waiter in my very best Spanish 'Hola! Como estas? Puedes darme un zumo de naranja, una cerveza y dos bocadillos de jamon por favor?'*  I shall resist the urge to ask the waiter when their birthday is or how many children they have.

Muchas gracias to Ines for giving me a wonderful and surprisingly painless introduction to Spanish. I shall be returning to see her for a refresher lesson before we go to Valencia. Until then I've promised to learn 3 new Spanish words a day. At this rate by the time we get to Valencia I'll be able to have in-depth chats with local residents about anything from the EU referendum to Gary Neville's management of Valencia FC (hmm, perhaps not).  

And now all that's left to say is...

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a special little girl called Thea Redford. 

For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at

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Hello! How are you? Please could you get me an orange juice, a beer and two ham baguettes?' (You knew that already didn't you!)   

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