I’ve lived and worked on our beautiful island for almost eleven years. When I first moved here I could barely speak Spanish, let alone Catalan. Now more than a decade later, depending on who I am speaking to, I can “get by” in most conversations. But I can understand more Spanish than I can reply, and boy is that frustrating when I want to complain about bad service or tell a joke. I want to be better at languages, and try to get some understanding of Catalan, and I don’t accept that common myth that it’s “harder for the Brits” to speak a language, we just don’t have the same compunction to learn.
Aside from the obvious benefits of learning to speak a language fluently there are additional health benefits that I would enjoy whilst I am learning. By taking in new information I would also improve my cognitive functions, my brain would strengthen becoming faster and more flexible: as if I was taking my little grey cells for a workout at the gym. My memory would improve as a result and I could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. As a result of learning a new language it also means my ability to express myself in English will improve. It sounds counter intuitive but it´s been proven that as you focus on one language and its abstract concepts of grammar you also apply your new understanding to your existing mother tongue.
But how will I achieve this? Especially when time is of the essence: I don’t have much free time to spare. I’ve studied Spanish off and on over the last decade with mixed results. Why haven’t I just “absorbed” Spanish the way that some friends of mine have done. I think partly it is because of the work that I do: I produce thousands of words in English every week, so how am I going to break out of this pattern and finally go from “frustrated beginner” to “UN translator” although I would settle for “advanced and completely competent”. And perhaps I just haven’t given it enough of a go yet. Glossolalia, a language school based in Palma, say that it’s normal to learn a thousand words in one week on one of their courses, but then they don’t teach in the conventional way. Their courses are guided by the results of advanced psychological studies in how we learn. The secret they say is to apply the techniques of “Super Learning” by using a method called “Suggestopedia”. A Bulgarian psychologist called Georgi Lozanov pioneered the method in the Seventies. Key differences to conventional teaching have to be followed. The physical surroundings and atmosphere in the classroom are vital factors to make sure that the students feel comfortable and confident, and various techniques, including art and music, are used by the trained teachers. In order to help the student remember the information it is delivered in several different ways: repetition in active and passive ways, with reinforcement through the use of different sorts of games in a comfortable setting. The Glossolalia method uses classrooms with audio-visual aids, comfy chairs, physical activities, excursions out for lunch and trips, role-playing games, memory training, speech therapy exercises and linguistic exercises.
Once upon a time I was confident that I would be able to speak Spanish fluently, whenever I am asked by a Spanish speaking person how long I’ve lived here I want to lie because my language skills should be spot on by now, surely? But I’ve decide that it’s not time yet to give up on my ambitions. It’s got to be worth a shot. I want to stop feeling embarrassed about my language skills and hold my own down the pub. And the doctors. And the post office. And at my daughter’s school, my workplaces, the garage… you get the idea? You can follow my efforts at www. mallorcamatters.com and get more info about their super learning techniques at www.glossolalia.com
By Vicki McLeod