The things I do for love

Learning a new language is a daunting thing. At times, it seems like the new language is a land so foreign and so vast that it is almost impossible to cover. A place where everything sounds wrong and simple words and concepts can be strangely confusing. At least that is how the first steps into Spanish felt to me. I’ve now been learning Spanish for around 18 months off and on and I am far from fluent, but the past 5-6 weeks though have been a time of incredible growth in my language skills. I can honestly attribute much of my progress to a little push I got from the iTalki Challenge.

To give you some background. I am an Australian man living in a country (Australia) where the norm is to be staunchly monolingual. That’s not to say that we don’t have people from every part of the planet living in Australia, but primarily Australia is an English only kind of land when interacting with others. Many families speak there first tongue at home and with friends, but in public most get by in English. I’ve even witnessed discussions between people who speak the same language use English instead of trying to understand the other’s regional dialect. Opportunities to practice almost any language exist, but they require some effort to find.

About two and a half years ago, I met my partner. Her family moved to Australia from Chile when she was twelve. Now it would be romantic to suggest that I learned the language to woo her heart and to ask her out, but that would be a bit disingenuous. And while I fell very hard in love, I didn’t need to overcome a language barrier. She is fully bilingual and speaks English better than most people I know. The older generation of her family however speak primarily Spanish and I wanted to be able to communicate with them.

I have wanted to learn a language for a long time and I finally had the perfect reason to learn. I’m fairly motivated, but for something as large as learning a language you need to have a reason and some pretty firm goals. This was my reason and I had a goal; to be able to speak with my partner’s family in their native language.

I did the standard things of trawling the internet and registering for some self-paced online courses. I certainly learned to read quite well in Spanish, but I struggled to say even , “Como esta?” without becoming tongue tied. This is a problem many learners face. I was missing something and it was obvious that the thing I was missing was the practice of using the language to speak.

italki wasn’t my first stop. I tried a number of language exchanges. I just could not overcome my fear of talking to a complete stranger in a language in which I could not converse. When you are afraid to even say hello, it is difficult to start a spoken conversation. I couldn’t do it.

About nine months ago I was looking to try again. I didn’t want anything that was going to be too expensive, but at the same time I couldn’t bring myself to try a language exchange again. I stumbled across a language blog by Benny the Polyglot and another by Andrew Tracey of the Telenovela method of learning Spanish. Both sites recommended italki as being a fantastic way to find language partners or even just test your Spanish by making notepad entries and allowing others to correct them with some guidance.

I came to italki not quite sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. The site was fresh and clean, easy to navigate and not dingy and slightly old as some of my previous experiences with language sites had been. The prices for teaching were very reasonable, but I wasn’t yet ready to try lessons. I started some notebook entries, talked to a ton of people by skype chat (not audio of video yet), and then life got busy. I liked the site, I just couldn’t seem to find time so my studies went by the wayside for a while

Finally, I decided to give it a try again. Funnily enough, this coincided with the start of the 2014 challenge and I knew I had no excuses. Scared out of my skull, I enrolled in the challenge and made my pledge. Now I was committed to giving it a go.

I booked in my first lesson with Ayari Cuevas, which came far too quickly. Ayari greeted me with a warm smile, “Hola, como estas?” The reply was natural, “Bien, gracias. Y usted?” and we began. “Cual es su apellida?” and there I was stuck. Thankfully, Ayari realized I was out of my depth and we changed gears down a little. We adapted and we were off and running at a pace I could manage.

Since that time I’ve had 16 sessions with some fantastic teachers and community teachers such as Marco Fierro or Cynthia and Community Tutors such as Fermin. They have been fantastic. I’ve even had a few conversations with fellow members of italki willing to exchange a little of my time and their time to speak together in both English and Spanish. It really has helped my confidence levels and has helped me develop by vocabulary and flow. I still have a long journey ahead, but now I am actually speaking and listening in Spanish.

Using Skype has been fantastic and I have the exposure and the access to trainers when I need. I have limited time, so being able to schedule around my time is really important to me. Skype, italki to arrange a time and the internet have really enabled my learning. Tutors have used a host of other teaching aids such as Google Docs, Weebly and simple Word documents to support language development. I’ve even seen flash cards held up to a camera, but they have all been really useful tools to aid my learning. I have really loved the interaction.

There have been a couple of mishits, but both the trainers and the team at italki have been fantastic at resolving the issues as they’ve arisen. The team at italki really are doing a stellar job.

To someone not quite sure or just starting out. I can only recommend that you take your time, choose a trainer to work with to give yourself some confidence and then start talking in the language of your choice. The trainers will work with you. The cost compared to other forms of training is EXTREMELY inexpensive and well worth the few dollars you spend.

italki has been a huge boon to my learning and it has become one a very important part of my quest to speak Spanish. I hope it can only hope it becomes useful to you. If you want to ask me about my experiences, I’m more than happy for you to add me through the italki system. I’m always willing to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Hola’ as the case may be.

Bradley joined italki in May 2013.