Sunday, 11 November 2012

3 months in Colombia.....

Today's post is going live exactly 3 months since I first arrived in Bogotá, so it really is about time I fulfilled my promise and uploaded a video. I'd originally said I'd do a video every month, but along with being a little lazy, I realised it'd be quite boring to watch them all.

I think doing a video every 3 months will show a more noticeable difference, making it a little more interesting.

So today I finally have a video for you, perfectly indicating how effective I've become at butchering the Spanish language!

But first, a few points I'd like to make....

I didn't ask Ricardo to say nice things about my current level speaking Spanish! 

I can honestly say with hindsight, that I could have reached this level within 2 months, arguably less (and not because I think I'm an incredibly gifted language learner - I'm not). As Ricardo mentions, I genuinely did arrive with a handful of Spanish words and I've not had a single lesson since I've been here - I'm solely teaching myself. 


For this reason and because it's the first time I've been learning a 2nd language (without a teacher), I'm still finding my way with the various learning methods available to me. You quickly realise which methods and exercises were pointless and which ones perhaps helped you increase your vocabulary in a short space of time. My listening is poor, because for some stupid reason I thought that speaking was the hard part - everything else would take care of itself. Well in actual fact, listening is the hardest part for me, so I'll need to focus on that over the next 3 months.

For me personally, language learning takes a LOT of time and effort, but it's not actually hard. I got a D for French at school, so I'm not *gifted* with the language gene. What's crucial are the methods you use, and how they effectively fit to your learning style. The methods I've taken on are simply far more effective than trying to learn with 30 other people at school (who don't really want to be there).

OK, here we go....

Yep, I've lost weight. I'm not sure how, with a diet here that includes a lot of waffles, ice cream and chocolate.

So, what else have a I been up to...

The photo below if of one of the main libraries in Bogotá, on the edge of a park. This is a lousy photo to be honest, as it in no way shows you how nice the setting is. Anyhow, despite the obvious good weather, it's never hot in Bogotá, due to the altitude (with its thin air). Furthermore, the thin air fails miserably at blocking UV rays, so it was here that I managed to burn my face - only to leave the white marks around my eyes, where I had my sun glasses on. Not a good look.

The photo below is from La Cabaña Alpina, which is about an hour from Bogotá. This little village/town is well known in the area for making excellent cakes/puddings etc. The best compliment I  can make, is to say they were *almost* as good as what we have in England. The location was an improvement on Basingstoke however, I'll give them that.....

I have no real news for this post, as my life is one of a student who teaches English a little. My brother Tom arrives a week today for a 10 day jaunt, so the next post will hopefully have photo's of the historic Cartagena and some nice beaches.

A quick thanks to Pops for his general IT help, Ricardo and Carlos for filming and speaking in the video and Angélica for patiently correcting my many mistakes in general conversation......!

See you next time.....

Monday, 24 September 2012

6 weeks - Bogotá, Melgar & an old friend...

Hola everyone......!

I've now gone past the 1 month mark, which is reminding me that life flies by, no matter what you do with it!

How's Colombia? Well with 2 World Cup qualifying victories under its belt since I last spoke to you, it's pretty happy! As soon as Colombia score, you hear people letting off horns in their apartments; they like their football here......

Above: The goal machine that is Radamel Falcao, after putting Uraguay to the sword......

So what have I been up to? 

Well I've been up to the top of Monseratte, which overlooks the city of Bogotá. The view's pretty impressive, showing the city in a flat basin effectively:

I've also visited a town called Melgar, for the sole purpose of enjoying its warm weather. Melgar is only 60 miles South West of Bogotá, but its altitude is far lower at about 300m, (against 2,600m). For this reason, rather than having the 18-20° of Bogota (around 10° at night), it was a toastie 35°.

I'd been looking forward to going all week, to feel some warmth, but as soon as I got there, a typical Brit reaction came through of, 'It's too hot'. The only option was to go for a swim and luckily Melgar has a lot of pools to choose from....

I forgot to take pictures of the pool we actually went to, but this resort above is where I hope to go if/when I next visit....

A big thanks to Angélica & Lupita for a great day out......!

So what else have I been up to? Not a lot that would excite I'm afraid, if it's only the exploring aspect of this adventure you're interested in. I've been studying Spanish (in some way, shape, or form), every single day for weeks and weeks now. It's been great fun for me however, as it's exactly what I want to be doing and why I'm here. 'Properly' learning a language, is without doubt the most rewarding & enjoyable use of my time....possibly ever.

For anyone vaguely interested, I'll mention my thoughts so far on trying to learn a 2nd language and what tips and tricks I've picked up. For those that aren't, just scroll to the bottom, a little above the Lama!

First of all, what's my current level? Well the picture below is from an exercise book I've been using, which has been extremely useful. It's far better than anything I was given to use at secondary school......

There's only so much you can learn in a month or so of teaching yourself, but I'm happy that I can translate the text below into English, without any problems. I could do that after about 3-4 weeks.

OK, it's not Shakespeare I'm working with, but it includes the foundations of Spanish, so it's a great start.....

Although approximate, it's suggested that the most common 100 words in English or Spanish make up 50% of every day language. The next 1,000 words take you up to about 80%. When you bare in mind that there are about 500,000 words in the Spanish language, you can see how much time you can waste learning words you'll rarely ever use. 

Being aware of this helps make the process of becoming a foreign language speaker far quicker (says logic, not experience!). If you can get a list of the most commonly used 3,000 words in a language (yep, it's easier said than done learning them!), you can apparently cover 90-95% of every day conversations. Sometimes you'll have to use round-about ways to communicate, but you'll be able to get your point across without too much bother.

3,000 words may still sound like a lot, but remember that's not even 1% of the 500,000 Spanish words available!

When you also consider there are about 3,000 English words that only need slight adjustments, like having a 'c' instead of a 't', to become the Spanish equivalent, the task becomes even less daunting.

On top of that, you simply then study and read texts in your subjects of interest, be it football or philosophy.....or both....

At the moment my ability to read and write is better than my speaking, with listening firmly at the bottom. The next month I'll focus on listening to more Spanish, by simply getting out and about regularly and chatting to people. It should be a lot of fun and it's certainly not the time to be a typical reserved Englishman......!

Listening to Spanish at full speed still baffles me, it has to be said, but I'm picking out more as the days go by.

OK, enough of the language update.....

Last week I randomly found out that a friend from college, who I've not seen for about 10 years, would be in Bogotá for a day. Maria has been in Colombia for work, where she's been involved in a project for Nottingham University. It's based around improving equality for women in Latin America, which has an interesting history behind it.

We caught up at the Botero museum in Bogotá, the morning before she flew back to Europe. Alongside work from Botero, the museum had pieces by Picasso and Dali.

Maria took me to the main square in old town Bogotá, where we were made to feel right at home with a million pigeons:

They also had a Lama....

Check out his back feet - pimp my Lama!

It looks like my brother Tom will be joining me in Colombia for a 2 week jaunt, a couple of months from now. That means I'll have a bit of travelling to talk about, to go with some impressive photo's I hope.

It also means that I'll be spending a good 10 days with Tom relying on my Spanish, which is a good incentive to crack on and get a much better grasp of the language! It'll be interesting to see how I'm able to get by when he arrives!

Right, I'll try and make sure I update this more frequently, as this post is far too long....

Chao for now!





But wait! I promised I'd have a video each month, showing my current ability to speak Spanish! Well I absolutely regret ever saying that, it was a stupid thing to offer, but I'm true to my word......... I will get one made as soon as possible!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

2 Weeks - Bogota & Tunja

¡Hola amigos y familia!

I've been in Colombia for almost 2 weeks now and it's fair to say I'm enjoying myself......!

About a week before flying out here, I was put in contact with a fella named Ricardo (thanks Siân!), who lived in Oxford last year to learn English. Ricardo and Carlos (his brother), have welcomed me to Bogotá and I'll be renting their spare room for.......I don't know how long.

This is the apartment block we live in below:

I think Carlos had me moving in forced upon him (!), but he's been an absolute legend, showing me around when he's not at medical school & helping me with constant questions about Español. Gracias Carlos!

Ricardo's been great too, but I'm reluctant to praise a Chelsea fan at the best of times.........

So I'll be out this weekend with a group of Ricardo's friends for his birthday and he's keen for me to try the Colombian spirit 'Aguardiente', which is known as, or translates to, 'Burning water'. 

Apparently, 'It tastes like gasoline'. I'll write Sunday off now then.....

Settling in......

Luckily for me, Ricardo and Carlos both speak pretty good English, which made my arrival less troublesome, but we're now trying to do as much as possible in Spanish, to get me up to speed as quickly as possible. I don't understand much of what they're saying at the moment, bar the odd word here and there, but it's the best way to make progress. Since I've arrived, I think I've learnt a couple of hundred words, which is a decent start I'd say. Turns out studying is far easier when you're interested and motivated, which is a unique feeling for me!

I just hope Español doesn't have too many confusing aspects further down the line, like English....

As it was Ricardo's Birthday on Monday, we went to visit his parents in Tunja over the weekend to celebrate, (as mentioned above, we'll be celebrating with his amigos this weekend). Due to the high altitude, Bogotá isn't particularly hot, it's even chilly at night and Tunja is is slightly colder. The welcome from his parents, (and grandma, uncles, aunts and cousins) was extremely warm however and I was fed enough to bury an elephant.

So let's meet the Martinez-Piñeros familia!

(Carlos is next to me, Ricardo's on the right)

On Monday Ricardo's mum took us on a mini tour of Tunja, pointing out some of the old churches and more traditional buildings in general. The following day, once we'd returned to Bogotá, Tunja had an earthquake, which damaged the main historical church in the town. This church below is a different one however:

So it turns out that Ricardo's got a similar sense of humour to some of us Brits, which is perhaps why we're getting on so well.

His mum asked him how to say, 'Thank you for visiting us, please come back soon' in English, so she could repeat it to me. Safe to say she told me to 'go away' in language befitting of a sailor. The poor lady was devastated when she found out what she'd really said, ha!

Since being in Bogotá, I've had a few people warn me to be careful, as walking around with your iPhone out in South America, is generally asking for trouble. So far however (touch wood), the only thing that's disturbed me has been Ricardo wearing his Chelsea shirt in the flat.

Right, that's enough for the time being; I'm now studying like a madman for the nights out tomorrow and Saturday, in the hope I can at least make a few basic enlightened statements in Spanish. 

I'll let you know how I got on in a couple of weeks.....

Friday, 10 August 2012

Target time.......


As some of you know, I'm about to leave the country for a bit of a challenge; to become a confident Spanish speaker by my 30th Birthday!

And I've decided to make this blog which relates to that for 3 main reasons....

Uno: To put pressure on myself to achieve my target/dream.

Dos: To keep my Nan & Co. up to date with my progress! (88 years old with an iPad, I'm proud of you Nanny!)

Tres: To have a diary for me to look at in years to come. I did something similar for another trip and it's been great to look back on it all, every now and then (Around the World in 155 Days).

So it's now the 10th August 2012 and I fly out to Bogotá, in Colombia, tomorrow.

That gives me 7 months and 5 days to become confident in speaking Spanish...

My current level?

Pretty much non existent!

Gracias, Adios, Sí, Por favor, Amigo, Uno, Dos, Tres - that pretty much covers it!

How do I hope to do this? Total immersion. 7 months of trying not to speak English (bar when I'm teaching it & Skype calls back home). TV, films, books, websites, music, socialising - all in Español.

I intend to update the blog with my progress as I go along, with a video of me speaking Español (at my current level at the time), every few months.

All being well, I'll be gone for 12 months in total, starting in Colombia and ending up in Argentina. At the very least, I expect to visit Peru and Bolivia on the way down, but may try and see some other countries if I have time.

Meeting and chatting to people is the best way to practice a language, so I hope doing this helps me meet hundreds of interesting people along the way!

  • To see the salt flats in Bolivia.

  • To do the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

  • To eat a LOT of steak in Argentina.

  • I currently live on ready meals. I don't know that South America is big on ready meals. This could be a problem. I can't cook.

OK, enough waffle, see you all soon!

Muchas gracias,


P.S. To all those who hope to visit me in South America at some point - make it happen!!!