We are going to ask a few questions about second language fluency within the framework of our interview with Miles H., who is known in our district as an exceptionally good and fluent speaker of Spanish language.
Q: How old were you when you started learning Spanish?
M: I was six years old, and my studies began when my older brother began taking Spanish lessons to catch up with the kids at school. I was always around when the private teacher came to give the lessons, and gradually I became the second student at these learning sessions.
Q: What was the biggest challenge?
M: Perhaps it was the necessity to perceive information via hearing. I always found it hard, and Spanish is quite difficult in this sense, because of the multiple accents that exist all over the world (for instance, in various countries of Latin America) and differ greatly from the so-called classic version of “castellan” Spanish.
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Q: Did you stop taking lessons from the private tutor at some point?
M: Yes, approximately at the age of nine I started improving my language skills by myself. I was very lucky to get acquainted with a couple of kids who moved from Mexico with their families and spoke Spanish as their native language. I had plenty of chances to practice my spoken Spanish with them.
Q: What learning strategies did you use?
M: I tried to focus on my vocabulary most of all and figured that grammar would sort itself out.
Q: Did that strategy work?
M: Yes, in fact, I accumulated quite a large vocabulary in a short period of time and corrected my grammar-related mistakes in the process of communicating, or, to put it right, my friends corrected them.
Q: Do you speak any other foreign language apart from Spanish?
M: Yes, I speak French and Portuguese; not as fluently as Spanish, though, but I make myself understandable.
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Q: Did you attend any special classes or language schools?
M: No, I did not, although I think I would join some class or other form of collective studies if I started learning the language right now.
Q: Are you able to watch movies without subtitles and understand non-dubbed language?
M: Of course I can, without this a person cannot consider himself as speaking a language.
Q: Do you agree that if you do not speak a certain language for a certain period of time you start to forget it?
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M: Yes, there is such a tendency, but I try to improve my language speaking kills at all times to avoid this.
Q: Is it a problem for you to understand various accents that speakers may have?
M: Not at all. I am good at distinguishing between different pronunciation signatures.
Therefore, according to the information acquired, Mr. H. had an exact ILLP (Individual Language Learning) during private lessons with a tutor, followed by many hours of individual practice. Perhaps, according to the modern language proficiency standards, the mastery of the language is not so perfect, but the general level can be described as advanced.
This kind of achievement can be attributed to the fact that Spanish was virtually his PHLOTE (Primary Home Language Other Than English). In fact, Mr. H. can be called a non-common Language Learner who, nevertheless, achieved considerable success. Also, we have to take the audio type of information perception that characterizes his learning process and is responsible for the rapid vocabulary expansion.