Posts Tagged ‘Out of a Learner’s Mouth’

Learning a language is no doddle

October 1, 2013

I used to think learning a language was a doddle. All you had to do was to go and live in the country and by magic, you would find yourself so immersed in the language that you would acquire it by some sort of osmosis – no effort needed. That’s what I used to think.

And Now? Now I think learning a language is like living in the dark ages when it takes a month of Sundays for you to even recognize a single word, never alone use it.

Umpteen years ago when I met this rather gorgeous looking electrician in my newly purchased flat in Spain I realized I just had to learn Spanish. As I stumbled into the spanking new flat he and I smiled at each other and then waved our hands about furiously trying to communicate. He was speaking Spanish and I was speaking English and neither of us understood each other. It was only by his actions that I knew he was putting the final touches to the electricity.

So, how was I going to master this wonderful language? I know me, lazy to the nth degree. Well, being a learnaholic (is there such a word?) I might as well study myself trying to learn Spanish – then I would have to learn something at least!

So, I borrowed all these antiquated courses from the library and set to work, keeping a diary as I went. Being a musician of sorts, of course I will pick it up by ear. Rubbish! Listening to the first CD I dived for the dictionary, anything so that I could see what was being said.  

With a few words under my belt I stepped out of the flat to explore and practise speaking. I was met by a bevy of Spaniards who were terribly excited about something. A group of ladies, obviously the gossips of the building, rushed forward to share the news. I didn’t understand much at all – something about machete and young girl and was it death I heard? ‘er Donde?’ I asked – hoping I hadn’t guessed right and someone hadn’t died – but if they had, where? They pointed to the flat in front of us, in our building! Did that mean there was a murderer on the loose? Was I safe? It took me years to find out that the man who lived in that flat had knifed his lover in the bar at the end of the road. He’s obviously languishing in prison because the flat has been taken over by a conglomerate or something.

So, if the language learning wasn’t progressing well, maybe the study was. I had piles of notes for my diary. I decided I needed to record a conversation to prove that I could make myself understood. I needed a key to the roof, for some reason they had forgotten to give me one. I found the location of the president of the community and knocked on his door. The door swung open and he handed me a glass of bubbly. Well, I wasn’t going to turn that down was I? I held my voice recorder in front of me to check it was all right for me to record us. He nodded and proceeded to talk at me ten to the dozen. When he finally took a breath I asked for a key to the roof please? He said yes! He understood me! Success! Then he went on about something else, I had no idea what. I would look up some of the words when I get home. Several glasses later I waved goodbye and left. Back in my own flat, I sat down to transcribe our conversation. I could not understand a single word he said. I listened again. Surely I would understand him when he gave me the key – I would hear the word for key. Then it dawned on me. It was not his Spanish that I did not understand – the man was drunk and slurring his words so badly that nobody could ever hope to understand what he was saying no matter which language he was using! So, learning a language is no doddle, of that I am firmly convinced – no matter how you go about it. It’s hard slog all the way!

More like this can be found in Rosemary Westwell’s book ‘Out of a Learner’s Mouth’ available from the author


Flip flops and an identity crisis – (an item to tickle your sense of humour)

September 16, 2011

I’m a brilliant teacher. I’ve taught English for over 20 years. (Probably more, but I’d rather not count.) I know all there is to know about language acquisition – a posh way of saying language learning  – well, I’m supposed to – after all I spent 10 years writing a PhD thesis on the subject!

I have a bright idea that no one else has thought of – well, okay, maybe it is what teachers do anyway but my idea is better. I like to say it is more profound.

The theory is, you get students to follow a 4 step progamme:

First they ‘notice’ – meaning ‘look at’ the target language, then they relate it to what they know, they practise it and then they recall it later. Simple. This is obviously the best way to learn.

Okay then. I should be able to teach myself by following this method. I’ll be fluent in Spanish in no time. At the moment I speak a kind of Spanglish – a pigeon Spanish littered with the wrong nouns, words without endings and absolutely no verbs in the past or future.

My cleaning lady has moved my flip flops.  I know I should do my own cleaning – I have such a small flat — but she is Spanish and I want her to help me learn the language. Unfortunately, she has no teeth, speaks a dialect and yells so I am not doing very well. I cringe to think what the neighbours hear when we try to have a ‘conversation’. My favourite word is ‘que?’ So I’ll have to get the Spanish word for ‘flip-flops’ just right. It is not in the dictionary (surprise, surprise). In desperation I ask on Facebook – Maureen kindly gives me the word. It is ‘chancletas’. There, I’ve noticed my new word. Now how am I going to relate it to what I know? – simple – they are my flip-flops and I can picture them easily. I need more. Okay I’ll use the Linkword method – you know, you imagine silly interacting pictures that sound like the word. What does chancletas remind me of? I suppose the first bit is like ‘chunk’, the next ‘let’ and the last ‘us’. So I could imagine saying ‘Chunk let us …’ Who is Chunk? – Well Chunk sounds like ‘Hunk’ so I’ll imagine a hunk of a man. Mm. What would he ‘let us’ do? Something funny, or bizarre with flip- flops. Maybe he would let us have a flip-flop fight – boring. Maybe a flip-flop eating – no I feel sick. I know, I’ll imagine Chunk letting us cover his lovely body with flip-flops. Mm that’s better.

Okay, so what’s the word? My picture springs to mind. Mm What is the word? – something to do with flip flops and a good-looking man – oh Hunk, – I mean Chunk – ah yes Chunk let us Chancletas. Brilliant! See it works. Now I’ll try to remember the word for flip flops tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and I remembered a gorgeous looking man covered with flip-flops, but could I remember the word? No chance. I despair. I think I’ll just look up sandals in the dictionary when the cleaning lady comes.

(This piece was written in a similar style to the book ‘Out of a Learner’s Mouth’: the trials and tribulations of learning Spanish) …

The web works!

July 13, 2010

Putting your thesis on the web free to view by all and sundry pays.

I finished my thesis on “The Development of Language Acquisition in a Mature Learner” a couple of years ago. I had kept a diary while I tried to learn Spanish as a beginner. The analysis of the diary was the basis of the thesis. I thought it would be something that a lot of people would be interested in. I made a few attempts to interest publishers in the diary of my learning experiences and the thesis but only received messages that they might be interested and would get back to me. They did not get back to me.

In the meantime, I wrote my own informal description of my language learning experiences in a self-published book: Out of a Learner’s Mouth (available at Burrows in Ely if you are interested).

Then, suddenly, after 2 years, a legitimate publisher approached me by email. They had been scouring the internet for possible theses to publish and had come across mine. They were interested in publishing! I had been told that the thesis was a good one and even though they may have been flattering me, I had worked jolly hard for over 9 years to get it completed. So it seems that getting you work published is more a matter of timing than anything. To my mind, it obviously pays to concentrate on getting you book right rather than getting a publisher interested with an incomplete work. When a publisher is looking for new work  – then and only then, will they show interest. Common sense, I suppose – but then, who has an abundance of that? (obviously not me.)

Go ahead, publish your book, you won’t regret it!

June 21, 2010

If you are thinking of publishing you own book – one that you think you would like to read yourself – go for it I say! It opens up a new world. You might not become a millionaire over night, but the rewards from positive feedback you get are well worth giving it a go.

At first you feel you are out on your own, indulging in a bit of vanity, being a self-indulgent eccentric. Your friends and family show mild kind interest because they know you, not necessarily because they are equally enthused.

Then someone insists on buying the book. It is just what they are looking for they say. Finally, they write to you to say how much they enjoyed it. You are not alone anymore. All your efforts have been worth it. Someone out there thinks the same way as you and really appreciates your efforts.

I received such an email today and I hope the author does not mind my sharing some of her comments. She was writing about “Out of a Learner’s Mouth” (available at Burrows Bookshop in Ely tel: 01353 669 759).

 Her comments: “I can not find the words to describe how I feel about your book, it is the best read I have had in ages. It is such fun, whilst at the same time a lot can be learnt from it.

 I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed it, every word, although I will never get to GCE, C grade! I relate so much to the way in which you, go and have an early coffee! Any excuse to stop studying, we were on parallel lines almost all the way through, even down to reading Joanna Trollops’ A Spanish Lover, except you are two years and ten grades ahead of me! And I have not bought an apartment in Spain.

 I have just returned from a short Spanish course in Palma, Majorca, which was great fun but debatable as to how much Spanish I can speak, I can order a coffee and a glass of red wine so all is not lost! I am going to return next year for an intensive two week course, but in the mean time keep listening to my CDs and re-reading my book, that is when I can get it back from my friends, I should have made them buy their own!

 Thank you so much for writing and having the book published, it is an absolute joy.”

Talking helps when promoting your book

June 16, 2010

Yesterday I gave a talk about my book “Out of a Learner’s Mouth” written as an amusing series of diary entries describing my trials and tribulations of learning Spanish as a mature learner. I gave the talk at the Institute of Education in London – where I completed by PhD. I thought it would be good practice for me, a chance to flog a couple of copies of the book but  little more. However, with Anita Pincas in the chair, her people management skills made it much more than that. She had encouraged a fascinating group of people to attend. I asked them to interrupt if they wished and I am glad that I did for as I chatted my way through a number of these learned people interrupted, supporting my stories with what they knew about how we think and learn from their study and research. I certainly found what they had to say fascinating.

a season of talks?

June 14, 2010

It must be the season of giving talks. Last week I gave a talk “An Aussie in England” to Littleport WI, a thriving group of lively ladies when I talked about my childhood in Tassie – things like jack jumpers, tiger snakes, barbecues in the bush..

I give a talk on my book:”Out of a Learner’s Mouth” at the Institute of Education in London, thanks to my PhD tutor Anita Pincas.  I may be one of a very few to give an informal chatty presentation at this illustrious institution. I plan to chat about my experiences trying to learn Spanish (a new language for me)  – as a mature lady of over 50.

 Never a dull moment eh?

A writer in the Ely area?

May 8, 2010

If you are a writer and you live in the Ely area, you might like to try Burrow’s Bookshop – address: Burrows Bookshop, 9 High Street Passage, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB7 4NB tel: 01353 669 759

They are holding my book at the moment:  “Out of a Learner’s Mouth” – an amusing description of the difficulties of trying to integrate in a different culture in Spain and learn the language.

There is no harm in asking eh?

The sweet smell of success – the book is published and people are buying it!

April 2, 2010

Ah, the sweet smell of success. The book is published and people are buying it! It was worth writing after all and if it brings a smile to the readers or encourages someone to take up learning a language, even in their later years, it has served its purpose.

Success, I hasten to add, is not the NUMBER of people buying the book, it’s the fact that they seem to appreciate the contents. After all, if the number of copies sold is the primary concern, I should have written a steamy sexy large print book about famous people – not my cup of tea.

So far, of course, kind friends have been among the purchasers, but there are others who do not know me, and people who have purchased because of ‘word of mouth’. The international feel is very rewarding too, with orders and positive praise from places as far flung as Australia and Japan.

A tentative press release has been taken up by the Ely Weekly News and this week it is featured in a full sized article with my picture staring back at me. The publication is officially announced! The magazine Cambridgeshire Pride has been making encouraging enquiries and it will probably be included in my old school’s magazine ‘Reflections’. (My old school is St.Michael’s Collegiate School, Hobart Tasmania.) I am hoping Burrows in Ely will take some copies (- watch this space) and you can get a copy at Toppings, Ely.

The most nerve-wracking person I contacted was my ex-tutor for my PhD, Anita Pincas. She really knows her stuff, and I was very nervous awaiting her comments. The book is a light-hearted account of my experiences learning Spanish based on my original diary that was more serious and formed the data for my PhD thesis. My tutor, bless her, passed it to her colleagues at the Institute of Education, London University, who also showed some positive interest -whew. I may be giving a talk on it at the University and I am presenting a workshop at the IATEFL Conference at Harrogate this year (2010).

The book? It is called “Out of a Learner’s Mouth: the trials and tribulations of learning Spanish” and it is a humorous and no holds barred diary of a language learner trying to learn the language in her later years. It is written for similar language learners, people who may want a bit of a laugh before going on holiday to a Spanish-speaking country, teachers who want to gather ideas and share the ups and downs of coping with students, teacher trainers who want to know just how a learner thinks and researchers who can laugh at the difficulties of researching language learning.

It costs £10 (plus £2.75 postage) and is available on eBay or could be purchased by contacting

A workshop for the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL)

April 2, 2010

I will be attending the IATEFL Conference in Harrogate in April this year. Here is an outline of the workshop I hope to give to support the book ‘Out of a Learner’s Mouth’. Maybe I’ll see you there?:

WORKSHOP “Out of a learner’s mouth”

Rosemary Westwell (Cambridgeshire/Bournemouth)

Thursday 8th April, Harrogate, Harewood 1, 605-650 p.m.

What do students’ comments really mean and what do they imply?

How can we satisfy their learning needs?

This workshop takes statements made by learners during their language lessons. Participants interpret the statements and devise approaches for the students. There is no right answer but endeavouring to find one helps us as teachers.

After the workshop has explored what lies behind a student statement and our consequent teaching priorities, excerpts from a supporting book are given. The book, written in diary form, is an amusing and no holds barred account of learning Spanish as a beginner.   


If a student asks: “Which course is best for me?”,  does the student want to know about the content of courses available or are there a number of constraints he/she needs to deal with first? If the student has few constraints, what is his/her level of competency, preferred topics, how much time and effort does the student want to apply,…? The list is endless.

We discuss our interpretation of the question and our teaching priorities.

 Excerpts from the diary in the book Out of a Learner’s Mouth are interpreted and discussed.

Other questions are dealt with similarly in the time allowed.


Comments? Suggestions anyone?

Learn from my mistakes when publishing your own book.

March 26, 2010

It is very exciting when your first real book is published and you have a stack of the books in front of you. Now you have time to reflect and you can get down to the publicity.

No one is perfect and the more I try to write, the more I appreciate criticism. I no longer see it as a personal slight, but rather a benefit for someone is taking the time and effort to read what I have written and is trying to help me overcome my mistakes to improve.  In a similar way, while I freely admit I have made mistakes this time, these mistakes are part of the learning process. Hopefully, as I continue my writing career, I will avoid making the same mistakes the next time I publish.

I knew that paying for someone to publish my book would be costly but I thought selling the book would be a doddle – after all I have SO many friends who have been asking about my writing. Then reality strikes.

The cost, for your info on this the 26th March 2010, for my short paperback was about £315 for copy-editing, £210 for the cover design and £400 for the 100 copies I rashly ordered. I estimated the cost would be about £9.23 per book.

Then, I did not take into account the freebies that were expected – 6 books to be sent to the copyright libraries, one to the publisher, the copy-editor, the cover designer, the voluntary publicity  officer, the friends who wanted to read it…. Now I have come to the conclusion that you are very unlikely to cover costs with you first book. However, the NEXT one should be another matter. (I can hear you say “You reckon?”)

Deadlines are another issue. I had created a deadline of about 4 months to have the book copy-edited and published – far too short. I was very lucky to have a copy-editor and publisher who could get the job done in time. Then I let myself down. I was given a first proof copy and being over excited about the whole thing and ever so keen to have the first completed copy in my hand I said everything should be fine, I did not need to read it through again and the books were printed.

The books arrived! How wonderful! How exciting! Then I read through one of the books, and I found, to my horror, there were mistakes, mistakes that had previously been spotted by the copy-editor that I thought I had corrected! I have no idea how it happened – perhaps I thought I had saved my corrections but I hadn’t. I am left with the certainty that next time, I will allow a year for the completion and I will check again and again during the process. However, I know that when I read proper, published books I find mistakes in them too so I hope that my readers will understand.

At the moment there is the problem of publicity. I have emailed my friends and attached the first few pages of the book. They have been very kind and positive. One friend who has just completed an MA in Creative Writing pointed out some errors and clichés. One of the errors he was right about – it was one of those I distinctly remember correcting. Otherwise, I explained that I had deliberately made ‘bad’ choices – like clichés because I wanted to show that I was a cliché kind of person. This is the joy of publishing the book yourself – you can deliberately stray from the narrow path of writing according to a plethora of principles for ‘correct’ writing. Fortunately for me, now, criticism is very welcome and I am determined that next time I will encourage as many different people as possible to read the book before I start the publishing process.

Now comes the embarrassment of trying to sell the idea of the book to possible purchasers. It is difficult trying to talk about your personal ‘baby’ in a way that does not sound like self aggrandisement. I think the best thing would be to get someone else to write your press release and I am very lucky this time for a kind friend has written it for me. Maybe I can use this as a model for the press release for my next book. It reads as follows:

“Lacking foreign language skills didn’t stop Witchford resident Dr
Rosemary Westwell from hopping on an aeroplane, introducing herself to
a stranger in a Spanish pub, and purchasing an apartment with her
credit card.
After realising owning property abroad may require her to have some
local linguistic skills, Rosemary, in her sensational silver years,
decided she was going to master the language – at any cost.
From her experience came Out of a Learner’s Mouth The Trials and
Tribulations of Learning Spanish
her first paperback novel on the
It is a hilarious account of the real challenges faced by anyone
attempting to negotiate another language – at any age.
Written in diary form, Rosemary documented her experience as part of
her PhD studies at London University.
Rosemary’s determination to acquire a foreign language was partly
driven by her interest in teaching English as a foreign language in the UK.
Despite having five university degrees, and a belief that she could
teach herself anything, Rosemary said learning a second language was a
surprising challenge.
“When I was actually trying to learn this language I was so fickle and
changed so quickly. There were a lot of things I learnt about
myself as a learner and that has helped me teach others,” she said.
“I used to expect far too much from my students in class.
“It certainly changed my attitude to teaching.”
Rosemary will present a seminar at the International Association of
Teachers of English as a Foreign Language conference in Harrogate
April 7 – 11, where she will talk about her experiences and officially
launch the book.
Out of a Learner’s Mouth will be available from April 7
For more information about the book contact Rosemary Westwell on”

Now I am proposing to visit relevant bookshops to see if they will stock a copy or two. One local shop has kindly agreed to stock one, (yes, only one) and their reaction was so different to my friends’ – “It won’t sell” was the first reaction. “Why not?” I wanted to ask, for I reckon that it would suit no end of people – learners of Spanish, teachers of a language looking for a light read that gives ideas, people designing courses, anyone thinking of going to a Spanish-speaking country for a holiday, retired people who want to be inspired to learn a new language… no end of people. I try to reassure myself that the Beatles and JK Rowling had similar problems when they started.  I have even put the book on ebay ( and when I searched for my name (Rosemary Westwell) it came up immediately. I have only just put it on ebay, but you would think that someone at least would have looked at the entry and maybe one or two even bought it – but the list of visitors remains ‘nil’. .

I guess the main thing is to develop a thick skin, believe in what you are doing, accept that everyone is human (including yourself) and get on with it – remaining positive no matter what. After all, as they say, overcoming mistakes can be the making of someone – you agree?

I would be very interested in your comments (and I mean it!)