Interview: BSL tutor Alejandro Caracha on how he helps his students learn a new language fast.
Originally from Uruguay, Alejandro taught in a bilingual secondary school, before gaining experience in Spanish teaching in Clapham. He’s been teaching immersive Spanish at Bond Street Languages since 2010 and also supervises new French and German teachers.
What’s different about the Bond Street Languages method? We have a core syllabus, but we build the course around the client. The pace varies a lot: there’s no right or wrong pace, just the right pace for you. That’s very important – the content is unique for every single course.
“Clients who have some knowledge of a similar language can be completely fluent in just five days.”
Why do you think the method works? It’s experiential. If a client does a two-week course, we can base the programme on what they did last week, or what they’ll do in the future. We can use all the tenses, without having to make up stories or look at text books.
Textbooks can be too rigid, and they teach people to speak in an unnatural, often old-fashioned way – nobody really talks like a text book! Discussing real life is more relatable and organic. If a client tells me they are from Ireland and their boyfriend is from Germany, that’s what we’re going to talk about. It’s much easier to learn when talking about real life rather than made up scenarios!
Eight or 12 hour days sound very long! How do you keep it interesting? Each client has two or three teachers which makes the day richer. The longer days give time to explain, revise, revisit, and think in the language for long periods of time. And humour is also really important, of course.
During the day we leave the classroom and talk about what we see: Selfridges, Debenhams, The Wallace Collection, Hyde Park. We go to places that each client is genuinely interested in - we’re in central London so there’s a lot to do.
For the tutors it’s never boring because our clients are professionals from different fields: the CEO of a mining company, architects who design stadiums, cultural experts, opera singers, film directors. Each client brings their own world – it’s really interesting.
How quickly do clients learn on a BSL immersive language course? It depends on the student of course, but generally, if we’re starting from beginners level, in five days of an immersive Spanish course we’ll cover the present and the main three past tenses, and towards the end of the week we’ll also talk in the conditional tense.
Clients who learned Latin, had to memorise vocab at school, or have some knowledge of a similar language (Italian clients learning Spanish or French, for example) can be completely fluent in just five days.
Exposure to the language really helps. If you come here with no exposure at all, it takes longer to learn. But most of our clients have some experience of the language through family or work already. I think of it like a sound wall you have to get through. Once you’ve started to break it down the language comes much easier.
What’s the biggest transformation you’ve seen? One of our last business clients had spent time in Spain but never learnt Spanish. He did a four week course, and then sent me a text from Spain. I was amazed by his level: he was talking from the heart, and using complex grammatical structures. It was just a text, but a very rewarding one.
What’s your advice for anyone wanting to learn a language? Trust your teachers! They are experienced and they know how to help you learn a new language quickly. Be flexible. You’re going to face a lot of contradictions when trying to learn the ‘rules’ of grammar, which can be difficult if you’re used to rational thinking and working.
Learning a language is the best way to understand another culture fully. If you want to persuade people, or do business, you have to speak their language to be effective. If you don’t, you’re not there; you’re left out of the conversation.
Finally, any secret weapons for learning a language quickly? Singing and music are really effective: the repetition and rhythm of the language can really help, like memorising a poem with music.
Surround yourself with the language: visit the country as often as you can. And stick with it – it’s totally worth the effort! Learning a second language really can be life-changing.
To find out more about learning Spanish with Alejandro or other languages including Italian, German, Russian, or French with our other tutors, get in touch.