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Broadening language skills

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Hola! As the summer ends, and we enjoy the very last of the sunshine, the thought of warmer climes beckons. One afternoon, a friend of mine, Philip Norris, called to ask me if I would like to visit the U3A Spanish Improvers Group, in my role as Roving Reporter for the Wetherby & District U3A.

On our way to a group member’s house for the meeting, I asked Philip what made him take up a more serious approach to learning the language. He explained that it was a combination of frustration and irritation at his own limitations. On holiday in Spain a few years ago, he couldn’t make himself understood when it came to something as simple as requesting a change of room in the hotel in which he and his wife, Janet, were staying. Following this embarrassing episode, he returned to England determined to improve his skills, using the library as his resource with CD’s and books. He soon realised, on subsequent visits to Spain, that with only a few judicious words, a little understanding combined with a little grovelling, he was able to improve the quality of rooms in which they stayed, by negotiating in Spanish with the reception staff.

I’ve had the pleasure of joining both the German and Spanish groups and each one has developed their own method of approach and learning to assist its members. Philip and his group have got to know a Spanish national, Eduardo, who lives in Yorkshire with his Spanish partner, Cristina. This is a very symbiotic relationship as not only do Philip and his group work hard at improving their skills, but Eduardo is busy working on his English skills at the same time, and values visiting the Group from time to time. It’s almost as if they’re all aiming to arrive at the same point developing an easy exchange of both languages. Eduardo explained that listening and copying are the best way to learn any language, with writing and reading to build up the arrangement of words which is more difficult.

Eduardo is working hard to improve his English speaking and writing skills, so that he can apply to become a firefighter in the UK. His father is a Bombero (Firefighter) in Spain and Eduardo explained that although this is a very respected profession in his own country, he would prefer to work in the UK as Cristina is working here as a Pharmacist and they both enjoy living in this country.

On my visits to other language groups in the U3A, it has often been stressed by members, that to have someone in the group who speaks the native language, enables the non-native speakers to achieve a higher standard, more quickly. Most people wait until they go abroad to test out their language skills, so having a visitor to the group, even once a month, makes a huge difference to their skill level.

The Spanish Group meets once a week, in each other’s houses, with the host choosing the content of the lesson. The subject cover music, artists, travelling and families with each member talking about their activities since they last met. This led to a particularly interesting discussion about Hen and Stag parties, and I discovered that the word ‘Espoused’ is Spanish in origin and means ‘handcuffed’!

Of all the languages I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, Spanish, like Italian is ‘warm’ and welcoming to my ear and possibly the most closely related to English. In fact, Philip said if he can’t think of the Spanish word when he’s trying to explain something, he often finds he’s adding an ‘O’ or an ‘a’ to the end of an English word and throwing that into the conversation hoping to be understood.

If you’d like to explore the Spanish language with the Spanish Improvers Group, look on the U3A website and contact Philip, who is the Group Leader. www.wetherbyu3a.org.uk; In Spain the same organisation is known as the ‘Universitas dos Jubilados’ and should you be visiting the country on holiday, you may like to join as two of the Spanish Group have, when they go to Spain for a few weeks every year.