I recently spoke to Alex Redfern, Founder of Lingoci.com, about his experiences learning Spanish and French. Here’s an overview of our chat.
Hi Alex, you founded a language learning site. Does that mean you speak lots of languages?
Unfortunately, I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to language learning. I speak French and Spanish to an intermediate level, and Swedish to a basic level. My regret is that I’m not fully fluent in any of them.
Let’s start with French – how did you learn it?
I took French at school and could barely put a sentence together by the time I took my GCSEs. The textbooks were so dry, and the teachers never focused on using the language in practical situations, so I didn’t understand the value of it.
Due to the low standards in schools, I somehow came out with an A. Because I didn’t have any other academic interests, I decided to continue in college. The teacher swiftly predicted I’d get an E, which motivated me to prove her wrong. Luckily, she was a good teacher and my classmates and I had the wonderful experience of suddenly being able to express ourselves in another language. I also discovered that language learning can be made fun when the materials used cover things you’re actually interested in.
Then after university, I moved to Paris in a bid to avoid the rat race. I reached an advanced intermediate level, mainly through going to language exchanges, watching the news, and speaking French with my expat friends.
And what about Spanish?
Last summer, I fancied a challenge and decided to learn Spanish. I went to a school in Valencia and it was a lot of fun. Valencia is a brilliant city and I made some great friends. In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to move there for a while. In around 4 months, I went from 0 to being able to hold proper conversations – as long as the person I was talking to wasn’t speaking at 100 miles per hour.
Not bad, how did you manage that?
After doing a few weeks of intensive lessons, my approach involved taking a couple of Spanish lessons with a tutor each week, listening to podcasts such as yours every day, and speaking with friends. I didn’t touch a textbook. Unless your life circumstances make it essential for you to learn, you’re only going to put in the hours if you enjoy the process. For me, chatting to people and listening to podcasts are the only way. Podcasts have exploded in the last 2 years and there’s so much great content available.
Do you have any recommendations on taking lessons?
For me, 1-on-1 lessons are way more efficient than learning in a group. The tutor can tailor the lessons to your interests, and you can spend 70% of the time speaking and receiving feedback. If you take lessons, ensure that your tutor makes you do most of the talking. You can improve your listening skills outside of class for free.
So, why haven’t you reached fluency?
Good question. Both in Paris and Valencia, I fell into the trap of having mainly English-speaking friends. And because I wasn’t planning on living abroad forever, I didn’t have the motivation to put in the required hours. To go from basic to intermediate, it’s fine to do, say, 3 hours per week. But to go from intermediate to fluent, I think you need to practice every day. I hope to get there though. One day.
Thanks for your time, Alex.
Alex is the Founder of Lingoci.com, a platform where you can learn Spanish online with experienced tutors from Spain and Latin America.
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