Online survey winner

Adult Learning and Skills Service

22 July 2021

An interview with online survey winner John Lawrence 

Congratulations to John Lawrence, one of our learners who completed the online learner survey sent out in May.  He has won a free place on a community course of his choice starting in September. 

He was picked out of over 170 entrants, and we caught up with him via Zoom to find out a bit more about him and the learning journey that brought him to taking a Spanish Mastery class at the Macbeth Centre. 


1.  How did your learning journey begin? What prompted your initial interest in the course? What was the reason behind it? 

Well, all this started in 1970, when I met an Argentinian and through him and through travel, I met so many Spanish-speaking people.  For over 25 years we did a B&B at our home in Chiswick.  We had friends and their friends come over to stay. They were from Argentina, Venezuela and Spain, and my job was to make them feel at home (in Spanish) and give them a little bit of touristic guidance, which was fantastic practice for me. 

It was during those times I decided I needed to do something more formally. So, I enlisted on courses and did GCSE, A Levels, AEA, I even went to Barcelona and did an exam Spanish for Foreigners and I got that as well.  I exhausted all the exams so what do you do then? 

So, it was a wonderful discovery to find Spanish Mastery, which was high level, and getting higher all the time and very satisfying with an excellent teacher and that’s how it all got started. 


2.  In terms of what Spanish Mastery is, can you describe what you are learning currently? 

Well, there is a nice balance of different things, there is plenty of homework, there is written work, which of course is fed back orally, and we take turns to give our answers and that’s interactive.  There is listening, so we get some YouTube clips that we have to listen to and interpret. There’s speaking, we always start out with a bit of gossip, and it’s a wonderful group, it’s the same group of ladies that I’ve been with for over 3 years and it’s obvious there is a spirit of teamwork there.   

Although we don’t meet outside, we meet every week on Zoom.  

This year I’m 80 and I’m told I will be alive for another 20 years and I hope I’m compos mentis and they say that a mental activity such as language and learning new stuff is very good for that.  


3.  What did you like best about doing the course online and what were the challenges? 

Of course, the team spirit, the teacher Amable is brilliant and of course no travel.  

But the challenges are this, I only have sight in one eye, a detached retina, from over 40 years ago, so I am used to it.  But it does mean that my eyesight is not very good. So, when homework arrives on the screen, I have to print it and I have to read it under a strong light, because I can’t read it properly on the screen sometimes.  

When you have to capture the page of book or something a section, Amable does this very well and everybody else finds it’s just fine, but I’ve got to work hard to get the material and to get through it. And then to feedback, I have to feedback from my paper.  

That’s just me, not everyone is going to be in that position. 


4. You can get documents read out to you by your computer, have you got that facility? 

Oh, I’ve never tried that, but the thing is this, I’m old school put it that way, and although I have embraced technology in so many different ways, I’m just visualising it now, imagine if something is read out to me, especially in Spanish, I don’t see the spelling.  I’m fine for conversation, people say you don’t need to learn anymore Spanish, your Spanish is brilliant, it’s not. Because when Amable produces some literature that we have to go through chapter by chapter, Oh my goodness, the vocabulary that crops up, I always thought I don’t have to learn any more vocabulary but for goodness sake, there is so much. 


5. What has been your best experiences?  

Something unique, I can do the classes while I’m abroad.


6.  Was there anything about your experience that has helped you now? How has it made a difference?  

I did management consultancy for ten years in Latin American countries and Spain and I knew enough then to conduct meetings in Spanish, and it was more technical, and I knew the technical vocabulary and so on. I don’t do any of that now, but I do travel a lot, and not only that during lockdown I’ve been talking, talking, talking for hours with people in Argentina on WhatsApp and Australia on Skype. The conversation practice has been getting deeper and deeper and people say we didn’t know that your Spanish was so good. So, it’s obviously for survival, and survival in spirit during the lockdown. 

Apart from the Pilates Zoom class, I do another Zoom class called Steady and Stable and some of those moves are challenging but I can do that from home, I’m so happy with Zoom. 


7.  Since your learning transferred on to zoom online, how do you feel you have progressed? 

I’ve been forced to progress, there’s no other way. I was tempted to use translation packages like Google Translate for some things, and I still do, as a sort of a dictionary.  I do find the discipline of writing something in Spanish and then looking at what the English was, and if it’s not what I meant I’ve got to correct my Spanish.  That is an adjunct to the online learning, and I wouldn’t be doing that if I was going to classes in Macbeth Street. 


8.  You have passed your exams and you’re on your way to completing the mastery course, what are your next steps? 

More mastery.  Some people say why don’t you learn Italian, but I believe in focus, and you practice what you’re learning.  I want to be as good as anyone practically with Spanish because it’s brought such rewards 


9.  Once we’re allowed to travel will you be travelling and speaking Spanish in the countries you go to? 

Oh absolutely, absolutely, I promised all my friends.  I lost my partner in March last year, and a lot of the Argentinians I mentioned were friends through him and they’ve become mutual friends over the last 50 years, and they are not going away and they all want me to come to Argentina and I want to go. 

I’m also thinking of having a plan B to go to Australia and there are also friends in Spain who are inviting me to visit them. 


10.  Will you be happy to re-join your mastery class if it remains online? 

Oh yes, online is good for me as I don’t have to travel, but if it returns to a classroom session, I will still join as it gets me out of the house.

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