Our in-house polyglot: on reaching fluency in English

Last week our in-house polyglot started a weekly mini-series on how he has become a 7 language speaker. Last week he wrote about how he became fluent in Spanish & Catalan, and this week he wrote about how he learned English. In case you missed last week’s post:

Now on to today’s topic:

¡Hola a todo el mundo!

Today I’m going to share my experience learning and reaching fluency in English. It all started when I was 8 years old; yes, 8 years old only. English was not taught in schools in Spain, and only a very few people knew how to speak it. Both my parents are a rarity in Spain because they both speak English. They knew they wanted me to learn the language as soon as possible, so they found an Irish young guy who lived in the neighborhood and who offered private lessons. Since the first moment, he only spoke English to me. I was terrified in the beginning; a guy who I couldn’t understand was saying things to me that made no sense. Why would my parents do that to me? :)

Anyway, that was my first contact with English, and since that day I never stopped learning. A year later, the Catalan govern introduced English as an optional subject in schools, and 2 years later it became mandatory.

Although the language was being taught in schools, it really didn’t help me learn it. The approach was terrible: they only taught how to pass tests, not how to speak English. Besides, the teachers were not natives; I spoke better than my first teacher in school! That was the reason why my parents put me in a private language school the following year. I learned a lot more there and I’m very thankful for that.

After some years in the language school, I stopped taking classes. I thought I had learned enough and, in my mind, I was already a fluent speaker. How foolish I was! When I turned 20, I went to San Francisco alone. I remember very well how embarrassed I felt when I couldn’t understand the immigration officer at the airport. Later, during the whole stay in San Francisco, I realized how rusty I had gotten and how much I still had to learn. It gave me the motivation to push myself to read books, watch films and talk to people in English after I went back to Barcelona.

What really has helped me, however, has been meeting Ron, my husband. Since I’m with him, I have learned so much! I talk to him everyday, since 8 years ago, in English, and even though he doesn’t usually correct me, I’ve gotten immersed in the language. So, again, the more you use a language, the better you get at speaking it. If you can’t marry a Spanish speaker, at least you can come to our classes and… speak! :)

Stay around, because my next blog is going to be about another of my languages and my journey with it.

Hasta pronto!


Our in-house polyglot on reaching fluency in Spanish & Catalan

Hola a todos de nuevo :)

Last week I wrote about what fluency meant to me, and I mentioned that it is different for everyone and, in my case, for every language too.

In the following weeks, I’ll write about my experience with languages with more detail. I’ll start with Spanish and Catalan, since those two are both my mother tongues.

I guess that for some people, speaking two languages as mother tongues is quite a mystery. For bilingual speakers, though, it just comes naturally.

I learned them differently, though. At home and with my family, we only speak Catalan. At school 90% of the subjects are taught in Catalan, and 50% of them, at least, are taught in Catalan in High School (In Catalonia).

I learned Spanish at school and speaking with other kids and other people. Both languages are spoken everywhere in urban areas, so you end up learning both if your first language is Catalan. It’s not necessarily the same if your first language is Spanish. A lot of people have the habit of switching from Catalan to Spanish the moment someone says something in Spanish. It is a habit that has its roots in the years of Franco’s dictatorship, because Catalan was banned from public life and spaces from 1939 to 1975. Due to this, a lot of Spanish speakers feel comfortable only speaking Spanish in Catalonia, because most Catalan speakers will switch to Spanish with them. The younger generation has studied Catalan in school, but a good amount of them don’t speak it very well, or even at all, because of the reason I mentioned before (people switching from Catalan to Spanish). This happens too to a lesser extent with some Catalans who live in areas where Spanish is not largely spoken.

Are those speakers bilingual? It really depends. Some people struggle if they have to speak Catalan, and some do better; and vice versa. Usually, in the case of Spanish speakers with Spanish as their main language, the ones that speak Catalan frequently do better in Catalan. Again, this proves that speaking a language is crucial to really mastering it, and just learning it passively doesn’t assure fluency.

Stay tuned for future blog posts where I write about my experiences learning English, Italian, French, Korean & Japanese!

Hasta la próxima semana :)


Our in-house polyglot, on language fluency


Hola, queridos estudiantes.


After a long absence, your beloved teacher Octavi is back. Since the last couple of blog articles covered how to achieve fluency and what fluency really means for everyone, I would like to share what it means to me.

As many of you already know, I speak 7 languages. However, that doesn’t mean that I speak them all perfectly, of course. I speak 2 languages at a native level, Spanish and Catalan, and even in those two languages I have some doubts every now and then. I think that is pretty normal, though. In my opinion, English is the language I speak better after those two. Let me tell you that I make mistakes and forget words all the time, and I speak English every day! I started learning it when i was 8 and even now, 30 years later, I keep making mistakes of all kind. Does that mean I am not fluent in English? I wouldn’t say so, because to me fluency is not being perfect, but rather communicating effectively with others while being more or less accurate. In French and Italian I have no big problems either, but not using those languages in my everyday life makes it harder to get to a very advanced level. I am happy with where I am with my French and my Italian, and I know I will only be able to keep them at a certain level, but I still think that I am fluent thanks to the fact that both languages are similar to Spanish and I don’t need to practice them as much as my last two languages, Korean and Japanese. Obviously, Korean and Japanese are so much different from Spanish that just in order to speak them at an intermediate level you need to practice them almost everyday, and that’s what I do. I practice Korean and Japanese everyday, and even then my level is not as high as in any of the other languages I speak. Nonetheless, for a Westerner, I consider I speak Korean and Japanese at a pretty high level.

So what is it to be fluent? As you can see, the first thing to be considered is the language in question. Secondly, we have to think about what it means to ourselves. For some people, just being able to have simple conversations is going to be enough, while for other people being fluent will mean to be able not only to have conversations, but also to talk about any kind of topic, in any context or level (it’s not the same to talk in Spanish with a friend about your week and to give a speech about Biology in Spanish). Once you get to a certain level, being fluent really depends on what you want to achieve and how satisfied you are with your progress.

In any case, most of us need at least a couple of years to reach fluency. Mi advice is: don’t be too obsessed with getting to a certain level; enjoy the journey!


Saludos a todos,

Language learning weekly tip: The Buddy System


If you are an extrovert like me, you probably find doing just about anything with a buddy, more fun than without a buddy.

If you’re an obliger (Four tendencies quiz) you would probably do well having someone else holding you accountable for tasks you would like to accomplish.

If either of these sound like you, you would probably find it a lot more fun to practice Spanish with a partner than on your own.

This week why not ask someone if they would want to practice with you once a week?

Everyone is busy these days, so it’s not like it has to be a 2 hour dinner, but you could get together for a cup of coffee, or even practice on the phone or via Skype. It doesn’t have to be for an hour, it could be for 30 minutes or even 15 minutes.

It could be a classmate or maybe someone you know at work who speaks Spanish.

If it’s a significant other, start small. Don’t expect Saturday to be “let’s speak Spanish all day” day, but maybe start speaking Spanish over breakfast, or for 10 minutes when you see each other.

Life is simply more fun with a buddy. And so is learning a language :) Who will you ask?


How do YOU stay motivated?


It’s been established that learning a language takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, just like any other big goal in life. So how do you stay motivated?

I think we can all agree that if we don’t enjoy doing something, the majority of us procrastinate or don’t do it all. I think we can also agree that we seek out things that we do enjoy, right?

Well, this theory can easily be applied to learning a language.


Suggestion: Make a list of 10 things you enjoy doing (they do not need to have anything to do with learning a language)


My list could look something like this:

1 – Spending time with friends

2 – Taking Lola (my dog) to the park or on a hike

3 – Going to restaurants

4 – Singing

5 – Listening to Podcasts

6 – Listening to Audiobooks

7 – Running

8 – Meaningful conversation

9 – Learning Italian

10 – Teaching


Now take this list and see what you may be able to apply to learning Spanish (in my case Italian).


My list could look something like this:

1 – Spending time with friends – spend more time with Brigitte, since we’re both learning Italian & practice for a few minutes each time we see each other + take conversation classes so you get to speak – check

2 – Taking Lola (my dog) to the park or on a hike – learn a new park/hike related word every time we go 

3 – Going to restaurants – go to more Italian restaurants and chat with the waiters

4 – Singing – set a few Pandora stations that will play music in Italian, write the names of some songs that I like, look up the lyrics & learn how to sing along – check

5 – Listening to Podcasts – listen to a few podcasts about Italian or in Italian – check

6 – Listening to Audiobooks – listen to short stories in Italian for beginners – check

7 – Running – listen to music in Italian while running

8 – Meaningful conversation – not there yet (my level is around A1-A2), but I could start learning how to express some meaningful phrases in Italian

9 – Learning Italian – this one speaks for itself

10 – Teaching – I am currently teaching Lola some Italian – Vieni qui Lola!


There is nothing fast or easy about learning a foreign language; that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun! Now all you need to do is figure out what that looks like for you.

Please share a few ideas you have with us!


I hope you have enjoyed the final of 10 tips for new language learners!




Why oh why am I learning a foreign language?

Do you ever ask yourself why in the world you are learning a foreign language?
I hope that you have asked yourself this question and that the answer is clear to you.

Learning a foreign language takes a tremendous amount of time, commitment, effort and eventually a lifestyle change if fluency is your goal. Since it’s a marathon and not a sprint, it’s important to remind yourself why you’re doing it, to keep up the momentum.

I suggest that you take a moment to make a list of reasons, and keep it somewhere that you can look at it on occasion. I keep mine in my phone.

Here is my list for why I am learning Italian:
– Because I love the sound of it
– Because I’ve always wanted to learn it, since I was a kid (lifelong dream)
– Because I love all things Italian
– So that I can communicate when I travel to Italy
– So that I can communicate with more people on this earth
– So that I can go through what my students go through: learning a language as an adult and using PBO’s conversational method
– So that I can sing in Italian (especially Andrea Bocelli)
– Because I think that being trilingual is pretty cool
– Because it’s fun (I still get giddy when I learn new words or recognize a word in a song/book/movie)

So why are you learning Spanish? Please share your list with us!

I hope you have enjoyed the 9th of 10 tips for new language learners!


Take advantage of us!

Today we’re on to the 8th of 10 tips for new language learners!

With today’s tip I would like to encourage you to take advantage of us.

What do I mean by that?
Well, Pura Buena Onda continually makes an effort to create a community where you can practice Spanish, not just a class that you go to once a week.
So take advantage of everything we have to offer, such as:
– Our daily interactive conversations on Facebook
– Our daily saying on Twitter
– Our monthly social club events BOSC events
– This blog with the weekly tip
– Our weekly newsletter that among other things features informative stories by our students who have advanced a level
– Our Instagram page with pics of our students, teachers, outings, etc.
– Our Pinterest page with resources, grammar lessons, jokes, etc.
– Of course there’s our annual 90-Day Spanish Bootcamp, the weekly optional homework, the trips abroad, etc. The point is that PBO is so much more than a once a week language class, and we want you to enjoy and take advantage of all of it!


Divide and conquer!


Today we will continue with the 5th of 10 tips for new language learners!


How quickly you want to learn a language is up to you. The more hours you put in, the faster you will learn. But, there’s a twist.


Divide and conquer!
Did you know that you retain more information if you study for less time more often than if you study for a longer period of time less often? In other words, let’s say that you’re going to dedicate 2 hours to Spanish each week outside of class. It’s actually better for retention purposes that you split up the 2 hours between 5-7 days (approximately 20-25 minutes/day), than if you split it up into 2 one-hour sessions for example.

For this reason, and the fact that you must be consistent when you learn a language, we recommend working on your Spanish for 10+ minutes every, single day. Have a few options for days that you have time (I’m a HUGE fan of journaling in Spanish & watching telenovelas) and a few options for the days you don’t (podcasts, audiobooks & talking to yourself are perfect for these situations).

You know you can squeeze in 10 minutes per day, if learning Spanish is a priority!


No pic Inglich!


Today we will continue with the 4th of 10 tips for new language learners.


An incredibly important habit to form as quickly as possible when you are learning a new language, is to not revert back to English when you do not know how to say something. This will be challenging at the beginning, but get in the habit of trying.

For example, maybe you do not know how to say the number “1789”, but you know how to say 17 and 89, or you know how to say one, seven, eight, and nine.

Perhaps you do not know how to say “to drive” but you know how to use your hands to show that you are driving.

Or maybe you do not know the word for “pillow” but you do know how to say “it’s the soft thing under your head when you are in bed.”

And of course you need to know the very important phrase “¿Cómo se dice xxx?” / How do you say xxx?

The quicker you can get into the habit of not mixing English in with your Spanish, the more quickly you’ll reach fluency. It’s really that simple.




PS When anyone spoke to my grandmother in English, she always used to tell them that she did not speak English, which came out as “no pic inglich.” Years ago we adopted this saying as a motto here at Pura Buena Onda :)  

Acceptance, gratitude & learning Spanish!


It’s very easy to get caught up in the “why” something is said a certain way when you’re learning a foreign language. It’s natural for us to question something we do not understand or agree with, but the reality is that it does not serve us well in the language learning process.


For example, when students are taught that in Spanish WE do not LIKE things, but THINGS are PLEASING to US, it tends to blow their minds, which often results in an almost angry “why???” or “that doesn’t make any sense!” When students are taught the subjunctive mood, many react in a very negative way, thinking they will never understand it and complaining that they don’t want to work on it.  


Maybe at one time or another you have wanted to rebel against the differences in the foreign language you are learning, but the reality is that it is what it is, and accepting it instead of fighting it will serve you much better. If you spend a lot of time complaining or questioning, you are wasting precious learning time. I suggest not only to accept, but to be grateful for those interesting nuances that make other languages and cultures so very different and interesting!  


This is not to say that you shouldn’t ask questions in class. This simply means that if you find yourself becoming negative, “complainy” or constantly asking “why,” you may consider turning that around by asking for more examples to better understand the topic. Becoming curious or even fascinated by the differences is also a positive approach to take. The language you are learning is not going to change; the only thing that will make it easier to learn it is a good attitude (like everything else in life).