Born in Khartoum and now based in Toronto, Ahmed has lived in New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Oxford, Taipei and Singapore, so it should come as no surprise that one of Ahmed’s passions, as a local in so many parts of the world, is learning languages and understanding people and cultures not his own.
In the following interview, he tells us about the tricky science of sticking to just one language when you’re simultaneously learning two.
Why are you learning Spanish and French at the same time?
I studied and enjoyed learning French in school as a Canadian, but I didn’t continue beyond high school. When I was living in New York I started learning Spanish, and I ended up moving to Buenos Aires for a few months to do some immersion learning. When I started using Chatterbug, I originally used it to continue practicing and improving my Spanish and I had a lot of success with it.
When Chatterbug introduced French, I was approaching basic fluency in Spanish and I thought it would be fun to start studying French again, especially with the new perspective of having now learned much more Spanish than what years of French in school had given me. I’ve been pretty happy switching back and forth and learning both, comparing the languages and appreciating the similarities and differences.
You've been studying Spanish the longest, so what was your proudest Spanish-speaking moment to date?
When I started studying Spanish on Chatterbug, I had actually already spent a lot of time trying to study it independently. Through other apps, through immersion in Buenos Aires, and self-study. But even when living in a Spanish country, I often found myself not actually using it and relying on others’ English fluency. So my own fluency did not improve nearly as much as I wanted.
When I started using Chatterbug and I had to actually speak Spanish for almost an hour a day, my Spanish improved so quickly! I went back to Argentina in February this year, and I was able to have conversations with people that I had struggled to talk to in the past. I was making jokes in groups, and my friends didn’t have to switch to English to include me in the conversation. Recently I went to a comedy show in Toronto that was in Spanish, and was able to understand and laugh at the jokes. And I still feel like I can get so much better!
How long have you been using Chatterbug and what was your level in both languages when you joined?
I’ve been using Chatterbug for Spanish since November 2018, and due to a break for a few months, I’ve consistently used it for 4 months. My level in Spanish was around 2.5 when I started, and I believe it’s around 4.5 now. I started studying French regularly about a month ago, and what I remembered from school put me at level 1.7, and I believe I’m level 2.2 now. I think I can get to level 4.0 in French by the end of the year!
But one thing that has definitely changed about my approach to language learning is not being as concerned about becoming fluent very fast, because if you can overcome your fear of using the language, you can be quite effective with it even if you’re making lots of mistakes. And each additional thing you learn just feeds your curiosity to learn more.
Have you had a chance to speak French outside of Chatterbug yet?
Not yet, but as a Canadian I hope to make the most of actually being able to have conversations in French, rather than just memorizing grammar rules. Maybe I’ll spend a few months living in Montreal…
We think making mistakes is a great way to learn, so have you made any funny or memorable mistakes since you began studying with us?
Honestly I make so many mistakes, one of the hardest things about learning languages for me at first was getting over the embarrassment of making mistakes all the time. One time that pops to mind is when I wanted to tell a friend “I missed them” (te extraño) and instead I told them “I wait for you” (te espero). Which is such an odd thing to say to someone. Another thing I’m working on is not using English filler words like “like” e.g. quiero comprar una, like, um, …
And now that I’m studying French, I keep using Spanish structures which leads me to some odd structures: “Comment se dice?”
What's your favorite part about the platform?
Meeting and learning from people from around the world! Especially for Spanish, because it’s spoken in so many places, Chatterbug has introduced me to people living in dozens of countries! And sometimes you’ll only get one lesson with someone, but it’s cool to connect to someone new for 45 minutes.
Is there anything you’d change?
I would love to better understand a high level picture of the vocabulary I’ve learned and to build towards reading a book in Spanish. What percentage of a book would I be able to understand with the vocabulary I’ve learned so far?
About your experience with tutors, is it difficult to start speaking with someone you just met online?
If I remember correctly, I was a bit nervous about it at first. But the tutors have all been so supportive and helpful that now I don’t think twice about it and it’s weird to think I was ever nervous about it.
And finally, would you recommend Chatterbug to a friend?
I recommend Chatterbug to everyone I know!