Spanish Opened Doors For Her

Meet Alison, a 7th grade Humanities teacher whose love for Spanish not only gave her the confidence to travel, it also allowed her to connect with those who don’t speak English on her travels. Read more about her love for Spanish and tips that can help you on your language learning journey.

BGLL: Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story! Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

Alison: My name is Alison Isaac and I’m a 7th grade Humanities teacher and a writer. Currently, I live in Cali, Colombia but was born in Toronto, Canada to parents who are originally from the Caribbean. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Spanish, a Bachelor of Education in Primary/Junior Education, a Master of Education in Supervision. English is my native language; I speak Spanish fluently and have also studied French and Portuguese (looking to get back into Portuguese).

BGLL: How did you get started on your language learning journey?

Alison: As a Canadian, I started learning French in elementary school. I really liked it at first but found the accent difficult (or maybe I just became more self-conscious as I entered my teen years). While in high school, I had the opportunity to pick up Spanish, which I did. I found it quite easy at first because there were many words similar to either English or French. The way you conjugate verbs in French, as well as the concept of gendered nouns, made me feel like French had given me head start on Spanish. Unfortunately, I got the two languages confused often, and eventually Spanish took over. I’ve flirted with the idea of refreshing my French.

I used to train Capoeira, and the head of the group insisted we learn (Brazilian) Portuguese since the language is an integral part of the practice. I was not a fan at first, but after travelling to Brazil, I learned to appreciate it a bit more. If I ever learn it properly it will be because I really value to ability to communicate with people across borders. I met and hung out with some great people but I also felt I missed out by not speaking Portuguese. My Portuñol (Portuguese and Spanish) could only get me so far. (And actually, doing this interview is making me want to go study it again!). The Portuguese that I know, I learned through various methods including Duolingo and my Capoeira group. I likely find a Portuguese teacher when I try again.

BGLL: Besides being able to teach Capoeira, are there any other opportunities that knowing another language allowed you to take advantage of?

Alison: The most valuable “opportunities” have all been personal. Things like, feeling confident to travel solo because I spoke the language, being able to connect with people because I spoke the language. In fact, about a year ago, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough of the latter so I started a blog where I publish interviews with interesting people I meet on my travels: I’ve been able to interview people (who didn’t speak English) in Spanish for The Global Narrative. I also write, so translating opportunities have come up, too.

BGLL: What are some of the struggles you’ve experienced with languages?

Alison: Speaking has definitely been my greatest struggle (there are some grammar points I STILL don’t get, but the only person who seems to care about those are me). I spent a year in Mexico City and felt like my Spanish hadn’t improved at all. I saw firsthand how a person can create her own bubble even when immersed in another culture. After that, I tried harder to avoid the “expat” bubble. I feel shy about speaking most of the time. But I’ve learned to do it anyway because I know it’ll benefit me. 

BGLL: Which language is your favorite and why?

Alison: Spanish is my fave. I love the way it sounds. Even before I started learning it in school in Canada, it felt like a truly useful, living language. I would hear people speaking it on the street, there were songs I was curious about. So many people in the world speak it.

BGLL: What tips can you offer to those who are trying to learn another language?

Alison: One thing I’d say is speak. The more you speak the quicker you’ll get out all the errors. Also, Listen to it as much as possible, and in its native context as much as possible. Listen even when you feel like it’s going over your head. One day, something will click. Whatever method you choose, make an effort — especially if you want to learn the language well.  Most people will not simply absorb the language, even when immersed.

BGLL: How can we keep up with you on social media?

Alison: You can find me on IG and Twitter under @alisonisaac. Don’t forget to check out my blog, The Global Narrative!

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