January 18, 2016

Mary Ann P.
Ft. Thomas, KY

Began studying with Coffee Shop Spanish: December, 2014
Classes per week: 3

Mary Ann’s journey with Coffee Shop Spanish began on a cold, snowy Saturday afternoon in December, 2014. I still vividly remember receiving that first email from her asking about lessons. I was excited to have a student who seemed so ready to learn and so eager to get started. Teachers love a passionate student.

We first met at Ft. Thomas Coffee in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. We did her assessment and she got about half of the A1 beginner-level Spanish questions right, but there was a curiosity in her that undoubtedly put her at an advantage from the get-go.

To say that Mary Ann’s journey was “easy” would be laughable, at best. I don’t have enough fingers to count the times I received late-night and early-morning emails from her on the verge of giving up, ready to tear her hair out over the preterit vs. the imperfect, demonstrative adjectives vs. demonstrative pronouns, or why she simply couldn’t understand Dora the Explorer in Spanish.

Just a few weeks ago, Mary Ann made the move to Málaga, Spain and is living a life that many could only dream of, and she’s doing it all in Spanish. I caught up with Mary Ann over the weekend to ask her to share her story and secrets of learning Spanish in just a year. Here’s what she had to say…

What inspired you to begin studying Spanish?
“I have loved foreign languages for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I would travel with my parents to different parts of the world and see how the Spaniards, Parisians, or Italians interacted with one another; how they seemingly communicated the same way I did with my friends stateside, but with completely different words and I was hooked. I wanted to be able to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “would you like to hang out?” just like I would any other time back home. I knew that do that, I would need their skills. To me, Spanish is a beautiful language that allows me to connect with so many people in this world that I may have lost out on the opportunity to do so otherwise.”

How has studying Spanish changed your life?
“Total game changer. I went from having a limited worldview, to a whole new perspective on life in less than a year. It’s one thing to visit a place and remain “American” – to continue with your same habits, to only speak English, etc… But when you immerse yourself in their language, when you really make the effort to show them you have an interest, everything changes. The art you see in their museums has more meaning, more depth. You get the chance to have a set of friends that look at things from their own set of cultural norms and you see that what you once thought was a given, may not be so “automatic” anymore. Just this year alone, I decided to take a break from my corporate career track and apply to teach for a year in Spain. I would have never even considered that as an option if I hadn’t met Daniel and really started to learn the language.”

Have you learned anything new about yourself because of learning Spanish?
“I always thought of myself as a hard worker, but learning a foreign language gives that word a whole new meaning nowadays! I also think I’ve become a more compassionate person, as well. Being able to read foreign texts, understand the interactions between Spanish speaking people, etc. has given me a different perspective on how I view things. Learning Spanish means learning more than the language; it means learning their culture, and, when you make room in your life for something like that, all sorts of doors open up. Your whole world is colored in a different lens, and I have loved every single second of it.”

…and about the world?
“I think that with learning Spanish, I’ve been able to see just how big our world is, and yet how connected at the same time. There is no word for word translation with any language, so when you ask someone who doesn’t speak English to describe their life, or what they think about a world topic, you come to appreciate a whole new way of looking at things. To me, the world has become more accessible, more readily able to be traveled, seen, and understood.”

Explain a time you thought you couldn’t get through some tough aspect of learning Spanish. How did you get through it?
“Oh, gosh, if I had a nickel for every time I wanted to give in… Honestly, though, it was such a community effort. I would text Daniel sometimes when I was frustrated and he would immediately reassure me Rome wasn’t built in a day. I made it a point to tell friends and family that I was going to try and learn Spanish in 2015, so occasionally they would ask how I was doing, and knowing I didn’t want to say I gave up was a huge motivator to keep going. But more than anything, finding different outlets to help me fall in love again with the language was key. We all know verb conjugations and memorizing vocabulary can be long and arduous, so when I felt down, or ready to throw in the towel, I would do something that made me happy, but in Spanish. I’d watch my favorite movie, but in Spanish. I’d listen to my favorite music, but find a YouTube version with the lyrics in Spanish. I’d go to a local coffee shop and find people speaking Spanish and just sit and listen. I’d read an article from, say, The New York Times, find the Spanish equivalent, and see how much really carried over. I’d look at my old coursework or handouts Daniel and I had done and remind myself that just a couple months ago, I was learning noun/adjective agreements or something like that. It was always always always about putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of how small that step felt.”

How do you use your Spanish on a regular basis?
“Gosh, a couple months of ago I would have answered with using it to read various articles, understand what fellow Spanish speaking co-workers were saying, and so on, but now, I’m in Spain for five months and use it to keep myself fed, active, and involved in the world! I’m in a part of Spain that doesn’t have a whole lot of people that know English, so I’ve learned some important vocabulary REAL quick, like directions on how to get places, all sorts of menu/food vocabulary, and even what washer and dryer settings are on appliances! I love every second of it and, everyday, I get to wake up, find new people to interact with, hear amazing stories, and connect with people in a way I never thought possible before learning Spanish.”

If you had only one minute to convince someone that learning Spanish might be the single-most important thing they ever do for themselves, what would you say?
“Go all in, never give up, and what you’ll be given in return for learning Spanish won’t even compare to the work you’ve put in. You’ll gain new insights, friends, perspectives, appreciation, and the list goes on. All the times I want to complain about learning 16 different ways to say this/these, that/those, is just silly once I see all the gifts this language has given me. The life it has brought back into my soul is priceless and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

What role has Coffee Shop Spanish played in helping you get to where you are with your Spanish?
“I have toiled with Spanish since high school. Dropped it. Tried it again in college, couldn’t cut it. Did it again a few years back, got Rosetta Stone, the whole nine yards, and still let it go by the wayside. But with Daniel, it all clicked. That’s not to say every class was rosy and warm and fuzzy, because trust me, I lost a solid three weeks of my life to “verbs like gustar” and not knowing why my brain just could not process such a simple syntax, but that’s for another day. Daniel really was the key to my success. He pushed me when he saw me becoming complacent. He reassured me when he saw me getting frustrated. He came to every class up beat, ready to start the day, and at the same time, was flexible and ALWAYS met me where I was. We went down every path imaginable to help me learn – it may not have been what he had lesson-planned for the day, but that’s the great thing about him – he makes it work for the student, not just him. We would listen to music together; we would watch ESPN Deportes interviews with Spanish soccer players; we would do scenario games; look at menus online and touch up my vocabulary. He did anything and everything to always make sure I was learning, growing, and doing what needed to be done so I would keep showing up next week. I owe learning this language to him and him alone.”

Where did your Spanish start when you began learning with Coffee Shop Spanish. What can you do now that you couldn’t do then?
“I know I touched a bit on it earlier, but I’d say I had “vacation Spanish” at best, before meeting Daniel. That is to say, I knew the words for passport, exit, bathroom, the basic etiquette stuff, and I knew enough to make sure I could feed myself if I went to a Spanish speaking country. Now? Heck, I’m living in Spain. With confidence, I can stop people at a bus stop and ask how to get someplace. I can go to the post office and send letters back home without even second guessing what I’m saying. I can rent bikes, get a library card – everything you’d need to function back home. That’s what I’m doing now, just in a completely different language, Spanish – all with Daniel’s help.”

What is the secret to your success in learning Spanish?
“For me, my secret was, and still is, to just keep going forward. You don’t always hit a home run every time, but stepping up to the plate is the most important part. If I love something back home, or in my native tongue, I find a way to translate that passion over to Spain/Spanish, and it always rejuvenates my spirit. For example, I love running, hiking, and anything outdoors. I found a local group here, and well, decided to just go for it and join in. Even though I didn’t understand everyone right away, we had the same passion, a day hike, a run down by the beach, etc., so reconnecting myself with what makes me happy ultimately made me connect with the Spanish people I was around, and it reminded me that just because I got lost the other day, doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing. Always making sure I do something different or new each day is key for me. Ordering a different menu item, taking a different route into town – anything that keeps me out of “auto-pilot” and reminds me I still have all sorts to learn keeps me going.”

Unrelated to Spanish, what defines you as a person? What do you do daily? What is your passion?
“I would say travel is my passion. Learning about new cultures and languages just lights up my heart. Before living in Spain, I was a corporate whiz kid at J.P. Morgan Chase, moving up the career ladder. I also love sports, reading, and doing anything outdoors.”