Why do adults want to learn Spanish and how? Clues from the real testimonies of some of our students
In Hong Kong, there is a growing interest in Spanish learning by adult students. And many of them end up joining our group or individual lessons at the Spanish Cultural Association of Hong Kong. In this article, after conducting informal interviews with some of them, you will get to know the real reasons and motivations underneath their fascination for this language. The main conclusions will also help us to know them more in depth and better fulfil their expectations. Here we go!
Jerry and Arthur are two students on their early thirties that met each other when they joined a three people Spanish lesson group in our centre. In the case of Jerry, she decided to start studying Spanish after traveling in South America and visiting Easter Island, and then realizing that the sound and phonetics of Spanish is very similar to her mother tongue: Bahasa Indonesia, spoken in Bali where she is from. On his side Arthur realized about the usefulness of Spanish after “surviving” in Spain while hiking for a few days along the famous and unique “Camino de Santiago”.
Like Jerry and Arthur, Anika also decided to join a group of adults –different to that of Jerry and Arthur- for mixed reasons that range from professional to personal ones. She is a Mandarin teacher and is very interested in European languages. She wants to know more about the differences and similarities between Mandarin and the languages derived from Latin like Spanish, but also French, Italian and Portuguese. Ironically, she has ended up teaching Mandarin to many Spanish professionals in Hong Kong, so she finds Spanish lessons a way to develop additional teaching skills for her own students.
Anika during her interview with Antonio, our Academic Coordinator, when they discussed the insights of her Spanish group lesson.
However Anika also appreciates the usefulness of learning Spanish as a way to better understand the culture of many of her students, since culture and social behaviour of native speakers are inevitably and strongly associated to the use of the language. This is what linguistics call pragmatics. Importantly, other students like Jerry and Arthur that learn Spanish “for fun”, also appreciate the inclusion of this type of cultural contents in the lessons through videos, short films and other activities designed by the teachers. They think this is a convenient way to promote their intercultural consciousness. In this sense Arthur highly welcomes invitations of his teacher María to think out of the box and “travel” through visual materials to Spanish speaking countries while yet not leaving Hong Kong.
"I think that videos about Spanish culture is memorable and makes us think out of the box". Arthur.
Therefore, group lessons tend to take into account more naturally the social side of the language, easily including interaction activities like role-play and activities in pairs. Although running well-structured lessons, Anika points as a good move the flexibility of the teacher on her groups lessons, prioritizing practice and student speaking time to the study of grammar and vocabulary in a more traditional approach to learning languages.
Nonetheless there are adults that still prefer one-to-one lessons with the teacher. In most of these cases that decision is related to having a professional goal as the main motivation for learning Spanish. For example, Claire is in her forties, and is a secondary English teacher with a strong base in linguistics. She also helps students of Mandarin through private tuitions and she would like to do so in the future with Spanish as well.
Lastly, Jean is a make up artist living and working in Hong Kong since she arrived from France in 2018, and she is willing to live and work in a Spanish speaking country in the near future. But first she wants to make sure she has some fluency in the language. Jean is the only student we refer to in this article that has not Chinese, Cantonese or Mandarin, as her first language but French, being this a great advantage to learn Spanish more quickly. She knows it.
Both Claire and Jean know that not all the students on a group lesson learn at the same pace, so they prefer to set themselves the pace of learning choosing individual lesson. This way they accept the process to be more pushy and demanding, something that makes them happy, at the same time that deprives them two from learning in a more relax environment compared to those that learn Spanish as a leisure activity.
In contrast, Jerry and Arthur have fun while learning, interacting with other classmates in Spanish language and playing board games to revise the grammar. And Anika, apart from learning and having fun, adds an extra layer to the events during the lesson: she gets ideas for her own teaching practice as a Mandarin teacher. As a foreign language teacher Anika is also aware about the importance of increasing the amount of input in Spanish to improve comprehension skills as well as for boosting her grammar and vocabulary. So she finds it another reason for joining group lessons, longer and more interactive, instead of individual ones that are shorter and very straight to the point.
Independently of the type of lesson our adult students choose, all of them are convinced about the importance that Spanish has nowadays in the globalized world. Together with Mandarin and English, Spanish completes the podium in the rankings of world languages. It is the third language in number of Internet users with 344 millions, 8% of the total, only after English -1106 millions, 25%- and Mandarin -863 millions, 19%-. When talking about the amount of native speakers around the globe Spanish jumps to second place with 460 millions, only after Mandarin with 918 millions. And finally, Spanish is also the second most studied foreign language in the world after English. It is not a mystery then that learning Spanish as a fourth language after Cantonese, Mandarin and English, makes the “total package” for Hong Kong people, not only for professional purposes but also for being able to communicate with the vast majority of the world’s population.
"If I know Spanish I will be able to manage the three most popular languages in the world". Claire, already a fluent English and Mandarin speaker.
Apart for its usefulness, Jean also reminds the importance of learning a new language as a way of keeping the adult brain healthy, fully functional and “in shape”. For her, this “journey back to school” while learning Spanish as an adult is different to that learning process all of us went through along childhood. Now she is much more committed and enjoys it more than before, she convincingly states.
After the conversations with these five adult students we found very different ways of dealing with Spanish language outside the lessons. And this is probably because this issue is more related to the personality of each of them than to the decision of learning in a group or individually, learning for fun or trying to pursue any professional goal.
While Jerry and Jean never forget doing their homework, Arthur, that shares group with Jerry, prefers to do a revision before every class and use other ludic tools on his free time like learning apps or Spanish songs to practice the language between lessons. On her side Claire, as a linguistic, has the advantage of being able to boost her learning by using some grammar books, although this also generates new doubts to be solved with the teacher in the next lesson. And finally Anika that has ended up being friend of some of her Spanish students, keeps her Spanish alive in a more natural way meeting some of them out of class. She tries then to catch up some more advanced expressions of daily life conversations in Spanish.
"I reckon it's imposible to study or revise everything we do in our lessons, but I always make sure I complete all my homework". Jerry.
Finally we looked into the intentions of each of our protagonists to continue learning Spanish in the near future. Jerry and Arthur started studying Spanish in our centre two years ago, and they are now completing the A2 intermediate level. Both of them will continue to B1, upper intermediate level, and who knows, maybe also to B2 advance level. When thinking back about how much effort they have put in the process none of them want to give up now. And this makes us think about the addictive side of learning a foreign language. The more you learn the further you want to get because there is an infinite loop of positive feedback. And this starts right when you realize that you are able to understand and communicate with such a huge community of Spanish speaking people.
Jean has just finished A1 level and, with no hesitation, she is proceeding to A2 contents since she has started to see the first results. “I can talk in Spanish!”, she loudly and happily states at the end of our interview. She will learn as much as she can before being able to leave Hong Kong towards México or Spain where to start her job hunting. And Claire, still in the middle of the A1 contents, is more worried about how to practice Spanish in her daily life than deciding what level she wants to set as her goal. Finally, in our conversation, we both end up being thankful to Hong Kong for being a world city that welcomes people for all over the world. This way it is much more easy to find meetup groups for getting to know Spanish speaking people to practice with.
"The sole purpose of learning a language is communicating with people". Claire.
And what about Anika? Oops, we forgot to ask this question to her! Ha, ha, ha… Anyways, and what is more important, we want to thank all our five adult students that where happy to share their experiences with us and help you, our readers, to get to know better our job and passion: teaching Spanish! Thanks a lot Jerry, Arthur, Anika, Claire and Jean!