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LINGUISTICS AND SPANISH STUDENT ALANNAH PURSLOW’S LANGUAGE LEARNING TIPS !

Updated: Jan 8



For our latest SLB blog, we interviewed Alannah Purslow, a Linguistics and Spanish student, who is currently on her year abroad in Spain. We discussed her top tips for learning languages and making the most out of your year abroad.

What language(s) are you learning?

I have been learning Spanish since I was 12 years old, and am now studying it at The University of Manchester. I also studied Welsh at school to GCSE level.

What are you doing for your year abroad?

I am teaching English at a private English academy in Esparreguera, a town roughly 40 minutes outside of Barcelona. I teach students from the age of 15 years old to adult learners. The school offers English for general use as well as for business purposes.

What made you want to learn languages?

When I was around 12 years old, there was a programme on Disney Channel called Violetta. I loved watching it, but the English dubbing was terrible! I wanted to be able to understand the show in its original language, so I started watching it in Spanish. I really liked the sound of the language so I decided to start teaching myself Spanish.

First, I would listen to the songs in Spanish and copied the way that the singers said and sang certain words. I was self-taught for around 3 years using Google Translate to find out what the songs in the TV show meant. Then I formally started learning Spanish for my GCSEs. 10 years later, I am happy that I can look back on these songs and fully understand what they mean. I find that the spark and connection that you have with a language is what will motivate you to continue learning when you are struggling!

How do you practice and keep up languages outside University ?

Through songs- I listen to music in Spanish - I use the lyrics function on the music app. First, I listen to the song and see how much I understand- then play it again with the lyrics in front of me. I ask native speakers what type of music they like and for their suggestions- this way I can immerse myself in the culture.

Through books- I love reading books. I try to read as many as I can in Spanish. It can be mentally taxing but if you start by reading content that you are interested in, it will seem like less of a chore!

Spanish TV Show/Film Recommendations

Cable Girls - TV Series - set in 1920s Spain, the plot lasts for about 14 years. It starts in 1928 and finishes in the early 1940s. It chronicles how women’s roles changed in society during these years, especially during the Spanish civil war.

La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) - TV Series - this is a really good show to watch to learn Spanish. It is about a small group of criminals who try to get rich as well as showing how people can change under serious circumstances. The actors are from different parts of Spain and the accents are varied so it is a good opportunity to get used to the different accents.

Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervous (Woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown) - Movie - follows the journey of a woman who is trying to find her lover to tell him this big secret that she has. It is slapstick comedy and a very aesthetically pleasing film. It is great for learning Spanish because there are lot of idioms which are great to recycle to use in conversations and speaking exams.

Spanish Book Recommendations

Lo que escondían sus ojos (What their eyes were hiding) - Nieves Herrero - Advanced - This is a historical novel about the real-life story of how Franco’s son-in-law’s affair influenced the political backdrop of Spain at the time.

Tristana - Benito Pérez Galdós - Advanced - A groundbreaking novel about the main character (Tristana) who is 19 years old and being held back by her guardian. The book describes her artistic liberation and emancipation. The author uses a lot of metaphors and interesting & simple language to illustrate the struggles that women faced.

La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba) - Federico García Lorca - Intermediate - This is a play about five sisters who have a demanding mother- she doesn’t let her daughters live or leave the house. They can’t wear colours or have any freedom - they must follow her strict rules. This is a very good play to read to learn about Spanish history. It was written in 1936 and couldn’t be published until 1945 because of the Spanish civil war. Looking back, you wonder if the play was a metaphor for how his beliefs would be accepted by wider society at the time.

Spanish Novels - Muerte en Buenos Aires (Death in Buenos Aires)Paco Ardit- Beginners - ‘Spanish Novels’ is a series of books by Paco Ardit, each book is aimed at different levels of Spanish speakers. This book in particular (Muerte en Buenos Aires) is aimed at A1 level speakers. The cover of each book has a badge that specifies the level of Spanish the book is suitable for. These are great books to read if you are a beginner learner of Spanish and looking for an introduction to Spanish novels.

How is your year abroad helping with your language learning?

My year abroad is really making a difference for my Spanish. I speak English to the students but I speak as much Spanish as I can with my colleagues. I would say, never feel afraid to speak the target language with your co-workers - if you have questions about vocabulary always ask. 9/10 times whether it be a colleague or someone at the supermarket they will be happy to help (especially if they can see that you are putting the effort in ! )

Sometimes there can be pressure in workplace scenarios such as meetings with time constraints. However, these situations encourage you to think around the problem. For example if you can’t think of the translation of a word or phrase you have to find a synonym or another way to get your point across. My advice for the workplace and socialising with people is meet and speak with native speakers. You will learn colloquial slang and converse in a less formal way compared to what you learn at University or School. You do not always use textbook language !

When you go into shops try your best to speak the target language. You find you’ll learn random pieces of vocabulary that you may not learn in the classroom (especially in shops). By speaking and expanding your target language as much as possible - you put yourself at a better chance of making the most out of your year abroad !

Advice to someone who is starting to learn a new language

Be patient - learning a new language takes time, you may not pick everything up overnight but with practice and persistence you will go a long way ! Listen to Native Speakers - try your best to listen to natives speaking, be it through news reports or TV shows. Look at the way people pronounce words, this can really help you when it comes to practicing pronunciation.

Immerse yourself into the language and culture - Even if you may not understand everything that is being said in a news report for example, it is still worth watching it to become familiar with the sounds of the language. Also immersing yourself in the culture is a great way to learn vocabulary that you may not find in textbooks !

Look for similarities with languages that you already know - Languages in the same ‘language family’ will have similarities i.e. grammatical structures. So if you are learning a language in the same language family as one you already know, try to look out for these similarities.

Duolingo- is a great tool for beginners

In terms of Spanish specific advice…Spanishdict & Linguee are really great websites for translating vocabulary in Spanish. There is also an App called ConjuGato for conjugating verbs and grammar and interactive grammar practice.

Final piece of advice...

To anyone thinking of learning a language or perhaps has picked up a language years ago and wants to brush up- put whatever fears or apprehensions you may have aside and by the book, get the app watch that TV show. It is an incredibly valuable skill - you won’t regret learning another language !


Alannah Purslow is currently completing her year abroad in Spain. If you are looking for a Year abroad work placement abroad take a look at our jobs page or email us at info@studentlanguagebureau.com with your CV and job preferences.

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