Habla como Amy

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An interview with Amy Wolstenholme – an Advanced level student

It’s not so easy to learn Spanish, especially not in London, far from the sunny coasts of Spain and Latin America. So we thought we’d interview one of the Battersea Spanish Advanced level students to learn how she managed to make it so far.

Who are you Amy?

Saludos!  I’m Amy Wolstenholme, from Aberdeen, Scotland. I lived in the south of Spain for a number of years as a student and then a “worker”.  I consider Granada to be a second home, and whenever I arrive in Andalucía I instantly relax, smile, and take in the dramatic scenery, the wonderful smells. Andalucians are strong-spirited people with a playful sense of humour.

What made you study Spanish and where did you learn?

I was fortunate enough to have some lovely early family holidays in Mallorca and the beautiful Costa Brava, which first sparked my passion for the culture and a need to communicate in the language (though I hadn’t yet quite grasped the importance of Catalan!).  I taught myself many of the basics before being old enough to select it as a subject at school, giving myself quite a head-start.  I pursued an MA (Hons) in Hispanic Studies at the University of Aberdeen. We were lucky enough to have Professor Phil Swanson as department head – an absolutely top bloke, whose lustful classes on Latin American literature remain with me to this day.

What has been the most exciting in the process of learning Spanish? And the most scary?

Upon graduating I successfully applied for a post as After-sales Executive for a large blue chip property company in the south of Spain.  I could barely believe my luck!  The scariest moment was picking up the phone for the first time in that office, and actually having to speak, to an actual Spanish property developer, without the chance to rehearse ten times before dialling the number… and then I had no clue as to what they said to me in response to my question.  Survival instinct led to a very rapid improvement and sprint towards fluency.

How did you overcome your fears while learning?

I didn’t always manage. I used to think the answer was a large G&T. It only proves that you need to drop your inhibitions if you are going to make progress, and that takes time.  Becoming friends with natives obviously helps you to get to grips with the more of the cultural nuances, which in turn increases familiarity with the language, and how it’s used.

What is your favourite phrase in Spanish and why?

Ojalá – just because it sounds beautifully Arabic (as indeed it is), and says a lot for a single word.  Usually in Spanish it’s the other way round: brief point = many words!

Any funny anecdotes related to speaking Spanish or living in a Spanish speaking country?

I have very fond memories of frequenting Spanish operational building sites, wearing delicate corporate clothing, and a hard hat!  The workforce were always “very flattering” – quite an international phenomenon – but particular to southern Spain they would also serenade, flamenco style.  That soon taught me to ditch the self-consciousness, and just laugh along with them!!

There is also endless entertainment to be gained from Espanglish.

How does being fluent in Spanish make you feel and what impact does it have in your current life?

Needless to say I love it, and I wouldn’t be me without that part of my character.  Although I’m not sure which came first – the character that was attracted to the culture, or the culture that formed the Spanish me – probably a bit of both.  Learning another culture (including the language) teaches you to better understand your own, and to reflect on the pros and cons which is healthy.  In general you can communicate and understand any culture better as a result of just knowing one foreign language.  It’s an experience that develops and evolved forever.

Amy’s guide to becoming fluent in Spanish:

  • Never fear getting it wrong – every effort is appreciated and usually responded to positively
  • Always try to make a connection, whether it’s with a look or a gesture
  • Practice on your own!  Getting the sounds right is quite rewarding – you use your mouth and tongue differently and can easily get tongue-tied  
  • Watch the telly – it can be a huge educator both in language and culture – and it helps to know a bit about gossip, celebs and satire!
  • Enjoy and have a laugh – otherwise what’s the point?!    

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