How Spanish changed my life

Rob Ashby

Rob Ashby

The Spanish Obsessive

We all have different reasons for choosing to take up the beautiful Spanish language. When we first start, we often have no idea how far we will take Spanish – but maybe the question should actually be, how far will Spanish take us? Here, I share the ways in which learning Spanish has changed my life.

Starting out

When I first arrived in Valencia to teach English in 2009, I had taken 4 weeks of evening class. I think it’s fair to say I didn’t have a clue. When my parents came over to visit me after about a month of living there, I asked someone for directions to a restaurant, and pretended to understand them! We spent about half an hour wondering around getting lost before I gave in and we went somewhere else.

Progress in Spanish was neither quick nor slow, and it certainly wasn’t steady. Week after week, month after month, I carried on doing whatever I could to improve my Spanish. Everyone should find ways of learning that work for them – I memorised verb tables, wrote out hundreds of vocabulary flashcards, read Spanish books, went to Spanish classes, met Spanish speakers for “intercambios”, listened to podcasts, and did whatever I could.

I wasn’t following any particular methodology, just trying to live my new found passion for the language. Maybe I could have learned quicker if I had the latest gizmo app, or if I took approach A over approach B. I didn’t really think about these things. I just had a love for the culture, a love for the language, and a deep desire to learn it. That was all I needed – everything else took care of itself.

Becoming “fluent”

There never came a point when a light bulb switched on and I found I could effortlessly express myself in Spanish. However, bit by bit, in my conversations I slowly realised that I was having to think less and less, and the words and phrases were coming to me more quickly and seamlessly. I found myself connecting the dots. I forgot whether I was speaking in English or Spanish, and I worried more about what I was saying than how I was saying it. I still made (and make) errors, but these didn’t get in the way of me saying what I wanted to. Instead of saying “become fluent”, I now prefer to say “become comfortable”, as that’s more how it feels.

A new world slowly opened

New people:

Lifelong friends and relationships, built using Spanish. I know I wouldn’t have ever met or been friends with these people if I couldn’t speak their language, and thanks to this I gained access to their lives, cultures, customs, and company. That was worth it in itself.

Fundación Mariposas Amarillas, Santa Marta, Colombia

New homes

I love the feeling of getting off the plane in Spain, feeling the Mediterranean sun on my face, smelling that first breakfast of “jamón”, tomatoes, and olive oil on bread, and hearing the earthy sounds of the Spanish pronunciation. I feel like I’ve come home after being away. It’s the same when I go to Colombia, and feel the hustle and bustle of Bogotá, and the vibrancy of Colombia’s culture and people. There are so many other places to explore, and I know that I’ll be able to navigate my way around in a way that non-Spanish speakers can’t.

New culture

Whether it’s Spanish music, Colombian politics, Spanish literature, poetry, films, and everything and anything else, a cultural universe has opened up to me. I feel like the world has become more colourful as a result


Beautiful Salento, Colombia

I’ve found the people I’ve met have inspired me. In our podcasts, we’ve interviewed people from Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Cuba, and the list is expanding. Each has a varied background, and their own fascinating stories to tell, whether good or bad.

Keep learning

I’m telling you all of this not because I want to boast or discourage you, but to let you know that everything I’ve talked about is accessible to anyone who wants it enough. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it a thousand times over! Hopefully my experience strikes a chord with you, and I really hope it encourages you to continue your love of Spanish, whatever your level might be!

What has Spanish meant for you? Let us know in the comments below!

16 Responses

  1. I love learning Spanish. I love a lot of things connected with Spain and Spanish culture, so, in the end, I really felt I had to make a concerted effort to learn the language. You say you haven’t had any lightbulb moments but I think I have had a series a series of them. That’s how it feels for me. My most recent was sitting with my Spanish teacher and realising that we had actually been having a conversation in Spanish for 45 minutes. I won’t say it was good Spanish and, of course, it was with a teacher guiding me but it was the first time I really felt like I was actually communicating and it gave me such a warm glow when I realised. It’s important to keep practising, so I have regular lessons but really I need to interact with the language every day. I have tended to adopt a bit of a ‘scatter gun’ approach similar to the one you describe. I haven’t found one thing that works for me. I think that is true of a lot of people. I am a teacher myself, so feel like I should sit down and devise some sort of plan of attack but I haven’t got around to it yet. Have you tried anything similar? I am now in a position where I should be able to move to Spain quite soon. I am hoping that, after a year, I will be much more fluent. I am also looking forward to the world of Spanish speaking that I hope it will open up for me.

    1. Certainly, moving to Spain will help you, although as we’ve said in some of our posts, it’s possible to recreate those conditions that are conducive to picking up the language at home.

      We’re trying to learn French at the moment. We don’t have any particular plan of attack either – just researching some of the resources available and dipping our toes in. We just got back from France, which was great motivation to help us keep going!


  2. Esto puedo sonar extraño pero creo que os vi hace ~9 dias en Valencia. Os habría dicho algo pero estaba con mi novia (que no habla español para nada) y no estaba seguro de que fuereis vosotros 😛

  3. I enjoyed the tone of your post. So often we can get so caught up in “learning the language” that it’s easy to forget the amazing benefits and doors that open while we are learning/discovering/growing/living with the language. Your story brought back some of my own memories while living in Spain. Thanks, I appreciate it!

  4. I’m inspired by your passion of spanish. The main reason i want to learn spanish is because there is a special lady in colombia who i want to be able to speak fluently with. Even though i’m only 2 weeks into learning i feel the hard work will pay off. thanks for the encouragement.

  5. What an amazing and inspiring blog to read – thank you so much for writing it. I am in my last year of School and I am heading to university in September to do a Spanish degree. It is so nice to read someone else’s story on how passionate they are about Spain, as it is something we share. I have a question for you – what made you want to teach English? And which out of reading/writing/listening or speaking did/do you find most difficult? For me it’s speaking but I keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone like you did as it’s the only way it will improve.
    Muchas gracias otra vez por este blog!
    (Feel free to reply in Spanish!)

    1. Hi Ellie

      Great question – thinking back on it now, I’m not totally sure! I did a lot around language learning and linguistics at university, and teaching abroad was a great way to combine my interest in language with travel.

      I probably find writing the most difficult. It’s something I do the least, and unlike speaking, there is no immediate feedback. Although speaking was very difficult at first, it does provide you with a very quick feedback loop, and you quickly improve. Writing however, offers no immediate feedback, which I find leads to slower improvement. I’ve still got no idea whether my Spanish writing is any good!

      Good luck with your Spanish course, thanks for dropping by!

    2. Hi Ellie

      Great question! I studied linguistics and English at University, so teaching was a great way to combine that interest along with travel, and learning Spanish.

      I probably find writing the most difficult. Unlike speaking, writing offers no immediate feedback loop (ie, someone to correct you in realtime) unless you have someone standing over your shoulder. I find that means it takes longer to improve, especially as it’s not generally practised as much. I’ve still got no idea whether my Spanish writing is any good!

      Good luck with your studies, thanks for dropping by!


  6. I’m from the UK (Manchester) and have a young family so opportunities for staying in a Hispanic country (in order to improve fluency) are limited. I have been learning Spanish on and off for over 20 years and have had experience of travelling, study and homestays in Mexico, Peru and Spain. I prefer Latin American Spanish to Castillian because of the beautiful accents, my favourites being Mexican and Colombian, and the straightforward manner of speaking of the friendly Hispanics I’ve come across. Being Oriental I’ve found attitudes in Spain to be less than welcoming, generally speaking. Anyone remember the poster for the Spanish basketball team posing for the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Anyway, I’ve been listening (and laughing along) to your advanced podcasts on a daily basis for just over a week now and have already felt more confident in speaking Spanish therefore I’m so, so, so grateful to both Rob and Lis. Can you suggest a place, hangout or event in London or any other UK city where I can be surrounded by authentic spoken Spanish? As my children are now attending school I’ve found time for a weekly conversational course (taught by an English academic who used to be a journalist in Peru) but feel in need of more exposure to Latin American Spanish. Any suggestions? Hong

  7. Im a a Polish person living in the USA. while studying English in England long time ago I met Fatima, a Spanish girl who invited me to spend couple days in Spain. That is when my fascination with Spanish begun. Fast forward 20 years and now I live in the USA. I had an opportunity to go on a mission trip to Guatemala and decided that I need to learn Spanish so I can next time I go there I’m more immersed in the culture. As non native English speaker its sometimes easier for me to refer to Polish websites for more difficult grammar concepts. However I love your podcasts and the insight you offer the native English speaker .  That way I can use my ‘Polish’ and ‘English’ compartments in my brain to perhaps learn Spanish more efficiently and quickly. Thanks for all the useful tips on how to immerse myself in Spanish language without leaving my home

  8. Hi, i am a Turkish girl who fan of Latin culture. i am planning to track my Spanish learning level by writing a blog then i found your blog. it encourages me. i havent know your podcast i’ll check it out. Hope that learning Spanish opens doors for us like you have

    In Turkey we have a phrase for learning language benefits i would love to share with all of you. “a language is a man; two languages are men” the idea behind this phrase means if you learn a language you are a person ( actually a human being, i used a man/ men refer to human being, no feminal or masculinal difference in Turkish while defining human being) so if you learn two languages you are more than a person you became people.

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