June 20, 2024

The word ‘conquer’ immediately brings to mind the Spanish word ‘conquistador’, which in turn reminds me of Don Quixote, by far the best-known book in Spanish literature and written by Miguel de Cervantes (1547 – 1615). I read this book (translated into English) many years ago as a young student of the Spanish language.

Don Quixote is, of course, a book of adventures stories about a Knight who championed good causes along with his faithful squire Sancho Panza. Cervantes had been a regular soldier from age 21, so he knew something of ‘conquering’.

One of my favourite quotes is: “hombre apercebido medio combatido” meaning “a man prepared has half fought the battle”.

This brief article is not so much about the story of Don Quixote or its author, but about conquering the Spanish language. If being ‘prepared’ means our battle is half fought, how do we go about ‘getting ready’?

Certainly, anyone can learn a new language or pick up on the strands of language lessons from school days. MOTIVATION is perhaps the biggest driver for learning anything new but METHOD is all important.

I shudder at the thought of going to sleep at night with a CD playing over and over to force Spanish grammar into my brain while I slumber. We work best when we engage with other people. And we will definitely make the most progress when working one-to-one with a teacher who specialises in bespoke tuition.

The Internet has opened up a world in which people can get together no matter how far apart they are geographically. What is then needed is a tutor who can personalise lessons according to your level and interests.

Take Sandy, a long-distance learner from Scotland. He is a self-employed joiner and hopes to move to Spain to work and live there in the near future. Once a week he has a Spanish lesson over the Internet. With each lesson, he learns more grammar (such as the verb tenses), speaks in Spanish (which improves each time) and grasps vocabulary that he would need, not only to be able to order a meal, cope in an emergency, hire a car or take on the Town Hall, but word-specific to his trade. So when Sandy goes to the timber yard, he will know how to order exactly what he needs. In these credit-crunch days, he cannot afford to make a mistake due to language misunderstandings.

Learning a language online has many benefits: you can sit at your computer in your pyjamas and no-one will know (unless your webcam is on, in which case put a sweater on over your top), you can be totally private and have your pronunciation corrected (the internet method includes audio) and then do your homework as and when you have time throughout the week before the next lesson. Watch out for the verb tests – often given without warning!

Spanish is a wonderfully rich, fascinating and exciting language. Think of yourself as a conqueror and take a leaf out of Cervantes’ book, Don Quixote, and you will win that battle.