Meet James Michael, Coffee Break French and Italian learner

Tell us who you are, where you live, your nationality and how long you’ve been learning a language with us.

My name is James and I was born and raised in Southern California in a very mono-lingual family. I started learning Spanish at school when I was 12 years old. Changing schools meant that even though I passed Spanish One with an A grade the first time around, I had to retake different versions of Spanish One with different textbooks three more times. Finally, after settling into one school for three years, I got to take the next two years of Spanish courses. Having a pretty good grounding in Spanish, I then spent the next ten years working in restaurants in California where in many instances I was the only English speaker in the back of the house.

Fast forward twenty years and I found myself working on a ranch in Arizona where I met an outfitter that did two week horseback camping trips with guests from Europe. Working for them for two years I found myself learning basic phrases and words in German and French. I also met an English woman who later became my wife. We moved to England (Northumberland) for four years to get visas for the both of us to live in each other’s countries.

Since I was from a sunny, warm climate, my wife recognised that I might need to find warmer weather. On a trip to Barcelona, I found that while walking through the airport, my Spanish came back to me. It felt like I was at home in a “foreign” country. Since Catalan is the prevalent language in Barcelona, it seemed natural to learn it. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way to learn Catalan online. The language seemed to me (wrongly of course) to be a mixture of French and Spanish. This led to learning French with the free Coffee Break French podcasts that I found on iTunes. We travelled to Paris a couple of times and found the basics I had learned from your podcasts felt fairly comfortable there.

Moving back to the United States to work as a tour guide at the Grand Canyon, I was the only Spanish speaking guide the company (Pink Jeep Tours) had at that location and having a forty-five minute commute gave me plenty of time to listen to Mark and Anna from Coffee Break French. Soon I was doing tours with guests from both Spanish and French speaking countries.

I have now purchased the premium editions of Coffee Break French Seasons 3 and 4, Coffee Break Reading Club (Spanish and French), and En Route avec Coffee Break French. The latter was particularly fun because my wife and I were planning a trip to Nice to coincide with a trip back to Northumberland to visit family and friends.

We now reside in Sedona Arizona where I still work for Pink Jeep Tours, but very seldom use Spanish or French because while Sedona is a major tourist destination, we seldom get international guests as we did at Grand Canyon. We still visit Northumberland every year and take a side trip to either Spain or France each time. I still feel my brain “switching channels” as we walk through airports.

A friend from the London area is renting a villa in Tuscany for her 60th birthday and we will be joining her and other friends there for a week so now I’m working on Coffee Break Italian.

What experience have you had speaking and learning other languages?

I love spending time in France and Spain and being able to converse with locals. As I grew up just a short drive north of Mexico I used to travel there when I was younger and was delighted at the look on people’s faces when they found out I spoke their language. I have heard from acquaintances that when travelling to other countries, the locals can be quite rude. But while I am travelling I find I am greeted warmly when people find that I have taken time to learn their language.

What are your favourite memories of learning a language?

My favourite memories are when I’ve spoken to a local shopkeeper or just about any other local for a couple of minutes before they realise from the cut of my clothes and my “strange” accent that I’m not from “around there”. Since my wife has a British accent they figure me to be a Brit also, and comment how strange it is to find an Englishman that speaks another language. I really love the shocked faces when they find that I’m an American that travels to Europe.

Where would your ideal coffee break be, and with whom?

Just about any cafe on the Mediterranean would be fine with me.

What’s the best language-learning tip you have found works for you?

Practise every day. Even just a couple of minutes a day helps keep things fresh in your brain. DON’T try to cram your brain with long sessions of learning. More than a half hour or so seems too much like work and you won’t learn as fast or as easily.

Quick-fire Round

Favourite language: French
Favourite word or phrase in the language: s’il vous plaît
Favourite destination to practise your language: Nice, Côte d’Azure

Please finish off with a message to your fellow members of the Coffee Break community and the Coffee Break Team

Have fun, practise often, but never for long periods of time. If travelling by plane to where you plan on speaking your new language, strap on your headphones and be ready when you hit the ground.

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