My Third Spanish Lesson With An Online Tutor – Our Conversation In Spanish

Online Spanish Tutor

Today is Sunday.

But that didn’t stop me from having another lesson with my online Spanish tutor from iTalki.

I don’t share that with you to show off about how dedicated I am to learning Spanish.

No.  I am telling you that you can find ways of learning Spanish that can adapt to your own particular circumstances.

iTalki has hundreds of Spanish tutors and thousands more from all over the world covering all of the other languages.

That means you should be able to get access to a Spanish tutor pretty much any time of the day on any day of the week.

So you are in control.

And it reduces the number of excuses you can find about not learning Spanish.

Today I had my third lesson.

In my first lesson with her we started going through Gabe Wyner’s excellent word list.  And in the second lesson, we explored the first few lines of the lyrics of Despacito.

In my previous lesson, I realised that diving into the lyrics of the hit of the Summer was probably a step too far.

So today I decided we would go back to working through the word list.

It worked really well in the first lesson and so I wanted to get back to that level of progress.

But I also wanted to add another important component to the lesson.

This Lesson Was Going To Start With A Conversation In Spanish

I am really well aware that the experience of classroom Spanish and real life Spanish are as different as night and day sometimes.

The rapid rate at which most Spanish speakers rattle off the words is only part of the challenge.  The way individual words seem to merge into one continuous, unbroken stream of consciousness is also a problem.

And it’s in a foreign language too!!!!

So I know I have to start to dealing with that especially for my trip to Spain in just a few short weeks.

For that reason, I sent a message to my tutor ahead of the lesson asking her to speak only in Spanish for the first 5 minutes…


I have to dive in somewhere and I might as well do it now.

It makes sense of course, but it doesn’t half make you feel vulnerable and apprehensive.

There was a part of me that just wanted to carry on working through the word list and making sentences.

It is fun, interesting and I learnt a lot last time.

But I know I’d be hiding behind that… it would be an excuse not to speak.

I could rationalise that I wasn’t yet ready to speak and I just needed a little more time to get a few more phrases under my belt.

I Suggested It In Spite of My Apprehension

That would be fear taking over.  Although I’d wrap it up in a logical sounding explanation with well thought out arguments about why it is the best way forward.

However deep down I know it would be just an excuse.

So I had to take the bull by the horns, dive in and brainstorm other metaphors and cliches I could mix.

And so that is what we did.

We connected on Skype messenger to make sure we were both ready…

…and then she rang me.

It started out well.

TUTOR: ¿Que tal?

ME: Muy bien.¿Y tú?

TUTOR: Muy bien

So what’s next I thought?

Well I had done a bit of planning and so I thought I would ask her about her week.

I knew what to say for this bit but I did check it on Google Translate before hand.

ME: ¿Su semana?

If I was speaking English I would probably have said something like “So tell me, how has your week been, have you had a good one?”

But I don’t know enough Spanish to be able to say all of that.

So I opted for slightly modified tarzan Spanish two worder with a raising intonation at the end.

Same message though, just fewer words.

Job done. Message sent.

Then I Had To Really Listen Very Hard

TUTOR: …She said a lot in Spanish that I can’t quite remember because I was trying to make sense of it.

Here was my understanding of what she said.  It was something along the lines of her having a good week.  But her students were sad about something.  I think it might have been the end of term.

As we were on video, she helped with a bit of universal sign language (rubbing eyes as if crying) to help me understand.

There was a lot I didn’t fully understand.

But I sort of got the gist…

I think…

So when she paused for breath I leant on what will probably become my signature conversational strategy…

I will smile, nod my head and say…

ME: “Ahhh. Muy bien….”

And then say what I want to say next.

I will act like all of our politicians do when pressed with journalists’ questions they want to avoid.

So my next train of conversation evolved around me learning to dance salsa.

I Told Her About My Salsa Classes

I think I said something along the lines of:

ME: Me gusta bailar salsa. Bailar salsa en lunes, en martes y en viernes.

I know now the second phrase is grammatically incorrect, but it got my point across – I have been to three salsa classes this week.

TUTOR: I can’t remember her exact words but she said she only goes to salsa once a week and has an hour long lesson

ME: “Ahhh…Muy bien! [See how useful that is:-)].  En lunes y en martes enseñar por una hora, bailar por una hora. En viernes enseñar por una hora y bailar por dos horas.

If you are a purist or have at least a smattering of Spanish, you will know that much of what I said has grammatical holes in it the size of the Grand Canyon.

But that is not the point.

I communicated what I wanted to say.

Ok it was a bit agricultural.

But the message got across.

What was really interesting was the mental gymnastics I was going through in order to answer the questions or find something to say.

Having A Good Vocabulary Really Helped

Fortunately with a vocabulary of 700+ of the most frequently used words under my belt, I have lots of raw material to call upon.

I found it extremely stimulating to try and find words I could use to say what I meant.  Fortunately being on Skype video meant hand signals were a big part of the conversation.

It might be “Me Tarzan, you Jane”, but at least the formality of the introductions has been seen to.

The finesse will come with time.

TUTOR: In Spanish she then told me her salsa tutor was from Cuba and asked me what nationality mine was.  In fact she used the word “pais” which is “country” in Spanish.  So I knew she was asking about nationality.

ME: En lunes y en martes la professora y el professor de Inglaterra.  En viernes la professora de España.  Lunes el professor John y la professora Thea. Martes y viernes la professora Nina.  Viernes la professor Simon o Tim.

That was a long winded, grammatically incorrect way of answering her question.  But the message was received and understood.

Hand Signals Are Useful Too!

Halfway through I did try to use hand signals and a bit of repeated words to try and ask her what “the same” was in Spanish.  I started with:

ME: ¿Como se dice…? and then gesticulated and blurted out the same word for teacher (f) twice in the hope she would understand I wanted to know the word for “same”… But we didn’t get that far.

And then the five minute timer on my phone went off…


I needed a lie down!

Here Are The Benefits Of Practicing This Way

Well that was a very useful exercise for a number of reasons:

  1. It proved I was able to communicate in Spanish even though I didn’t know all the words I could have used
  2. Faced with an on the spot requirement to communicate what you want to say, you suddenly get very creative.
  3. I was made even more aware of the need to develop my listening skills
  4. However it made me realise that I only need to get the gist of what has been said in order for me to be able to respond.
  5. If there are any misunderstandings in the communication, they will come out in the wash as you talk.
  6. The whole process was actually a lot of fun

The whole conversation had a time limit of 5 minutes and there were just two rules:

RULE 1: Absolutely NO English allowed by either person

RULE 2: My tutor was briefed not to correct, but to continue the conversation once she understood what I had communicated.

She was of course fantastic and followed both of these rules.

In my last lesson I had warned her I was going to do this and gave her permission to refuse to use English.  I even asked her to tell me off in Spanish if I did!

Might as well do it properly.

This Is The Next Leap Forward In Me Learning Spanish

I have to do this more often.

It is uncomfortable and I do feel extremely self conscious.

But it is the only way to move forward.

I wish there was a way of bypassing this step but unfortunately it is necessary.  We went through it when we learnt to speak our native tongue.

The only difference back then is we didn’t care what people thought because we knew no different.

If I can bypass the feelings of being self conscious and let go of wanting to get it right, it will get easier.

And the more I do it, the better I will get I am sure.

Now I shall go an find more people to practice with…

Any thoughts?







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