Learn what makes your heart beat.
Even if you don’t plan to travel to Spain, knowing how to speak Spanish can still be a nifty skill to have under your belt. Español is spoken by an estimated 400 million native speakers and flows in more than 40 countries in the world, including Australia. And if these numbers alone don’t convince you, have a read and be inspired by Ana Ruiz and Toni Edwards, founders of El Patio Spanish Language School, as they share their perspectives on the Spanish language and how they discovered the passion for teaching.
El Patio is a Melbourne-based language school that offers short and term courses for anyone wanting to learn to say more than just ¡hola! and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Spanish culture. Get excited because El Patio is offering a super special discount for our WeTeachMe blog readers. Book soon; seats are flying fast!
Can you tell us about your background? What made you want to become teachers of the Spanish language?
Ana: I am Spanish, born in Madrid, and studied Spanish Philology at the University of Alcalá de Henares, where Cervantes also studied. I’d always felt that after finishing my six-year degree, I’d travel and teach the Spanish language. This took me to many places: London, Prague, Olomouc, Wellington, and finally to Melbourne, where after working at La Trobe, Melbourne and Monash Universities, I decided to establish El Patio.
Toni: Growing up in Melbourne, I used to take up language classes as if I was trying on clothes (I would do it constantly!). I tried Spanish, Dutch, Thai, Portuguese, and Chinese. The problem was that in the 1980s, there weren’t very many places to learn languages, apart from universities, and the levels were limited, too. During that time, I established and managed the Black Cat Cafe in Fitzroy (with my friend, Henry Maas), and it is where I cut my teeth in running a business.
When the Black Cat finally moved into the next set of good hands, Ana asked me to be part of El Patio. What’s the difference between a cafe and a language school? Not much - just sheets of paper instead of piles of dishes, haha! But there was finally that satisfaction of building something out of my passion for languages. I am able to create an ambience for others to be motivated and be more successful than I was in my earlier days. By that, I mean we provide more than two levels of Spanish (we currently have 20 levels and many different categories).
What is it like teaching a whole new language to a student?
Ana: The experience of teaching can vary a lot! This might depend on the nationality of the students, how many languages they speak, how early in life they started learning languages and grammar, their government policies and attitudes about learning other languages, and so on. I don’t think Anglo countries have the best of all the above, however; more and more Australians are aware of the necessity of having another language under their belt since we are a nation of serial travellers!
Toni: It’s a wonderful thing to see people coming to their first class - a bit nervous, taking their first steps, and then further down the track you hear them coming out with whole sentences. Before you know it, you are having a conversation with them in Spanish, which gives me a great feeling of satisfaction.
What is your favourite aspect of teaching the Spanish language?
Ana: For me, it has been always the opportunity of sharing and contrasting ways of seeing life, that is transmitted through language. For instance, in Spanish, we have two different words to express the concepts of the word free: one is gratis, when something doesn’t cost you anything, and the other is libre, relating to freedom, for example, when not being in prison. Thus, two very different concepts in Spanish are expressed using a single word in English: FREE, which means not costing anything, as well as being a free citizen.
Toni: As a school administrator, I have an appreciation for creating systems out of nothing! Translated to language learning, I love being able to present a grammatical explanation in a simplified way, that makes a student both see how it works and gives them a way to learn it.
What is unique about your offerings at El Patio Spanish Language School?
Ana: I think if you ask our students, they would probably say that it is the care of our administrative assistants, the quality of our teachings, the beautiful premises, the well-organised system, and the variety of activities that we have made possible for everybody to enjoy over the years (winery excursions, Spanish Bingo, cinema screenings, bicycle excursions, to name a few).
Toni: It would have to be our fabulous programmes, which are written to direct students in a slow but steady way of progressing through all the phases and avoiding pitfalls of the journey. Then there is our amazing teaching team, chosen according to education and experience (apart from being good-looking!), who guide students through this maze. The combination of a teacher and a good programme gives the student a reliable pathway - what to learn and in which order. Then, I have to admit, our administrative system has been created for optimum support for everyone and ease of use - that’s my area, and I love it.
Also, did I mention that we’re fun?
How do you encourage students to be active learners?
Toni and Ana: We provide students with access to lots of different resources, so as to encourage constant attention and learning, whilst sidestepping boredom. Resources can be: special lists of words for individual sessions in beginner courses, links to websites to practise various skills (reading, memorisation, flashcards, audio, videos), or a newsletter with Spanish language events coming up in Melbourne. But the best way to encourage students is to provide a congenial, relaxed atmosphere in class, enabling students to get to know each other and work together. We’ve come to realise that learning a language works much better if there is fun along with the serious!
Why is it important for your students to learn Spanish?
Ana: You could say that in the case of Spanish, one language serves many cultures. We know the uniformity of the English or the Chinese cultures, the two other languages most spoken in the world. Fortunately, for people learning Spanish, they can choose multiple aspects of the expression of this language. And in fact, they do: Some people like Argentine tango, others Cuban salsa, Puerto Rican merengue, Spanish flamenco, Mexican boleros, Catalan sardanas, or Colombian cumbia. Who doesn’t go for our gastronomy, art, literature, cinema, actors? The list goes on.
Toni: Spanish is spoken by over 400 million people as a first language, and is the largest minority in the US (40 million speakers!) Learning Spanish is a great thing to do for Australians, and here’s why: Firstly, we haven’t had much exposure to the workings of the English language, and learning a language is a great way to learn and appreciate that. Secondly, although Australia is quite multicultural, there is no imperative to speak another language, something which occurs in many other countries.
I think the best thing is to be radical and learn another language! Spanish is one of the “easier” languages to learn, as the alphabet is the same as the English one, pronunciation rules are practically phonetic, and Spanish shares so much vocabulary with English due to its roots in Greek and Latin.
If you could create the ideal school what would it be like?
Ana: Like El Patio, of course!
Toni: Oh, imagine a school in a picturesque rural setting where students could join up to learn the language intensively through various activities, such as cooking, hiking, film, music. Hmmm, this would be difficult to achieve in Australia, however.
What is the number one tip that you could recommend to someone who wants to learn Spanish?
Ana: Firstly, to enrol in one of our courses, and we will guide them through their process.
Toni: Be realistic! A language is a mammoth beast, which takes time and effort to learn and acquire as your own. Group classes provide the warm, human element that is sometimes needed for explanations, as well as being able to practise in a simulated environment. The combination of a teacher and a good programme is the magic ingredient.
What do you like to do when you are not teaching?
Ana: I love outdoor sports, like cycling, walking, swimming. Also, reading, cooking and painting.
Toni: Lots of outdoorsy stuff like camping, boogie boarding, cycling, walking, and then a new hobby of learning to draw. Big things!
Here’s a bit of a fun question: What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Ana: I have been learning how to paint for a few years now. I can see that is a similar process to learning a language. You have to persist, to make mistakes, to do it over and over, to not despair, and take it as an interest for life, since you never can finish learning.
Toni: Drawing with a pencil! It’s a revelation to see what you can drag out of yourself!
Lastly, what are your plans for El Patio Spanish Language School in the near future?
Ana and Toni: We are always working on making it a better place. We’d like El Patio to be a great example of why it’s good to learn a language. We’d love to develop new ways of inspiring students to start or continue their learning - by creating new types of courses and trying out different combinations of technologies. We want to make language learning a normal thing to do in Melbourne!
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