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An Interview with Lucy Cattermole who gives helpful, practicle advice on the best way to study English abroad.

Una entrevista con Lucy Cattermole y consejos imprescindibles sobre como estudiar y mejorar su inglés en el extranjero.


Can you tell me a bit about yourself an..and your job? What exactly do you do?

Er..yeah, I am a…well, I’m a history graduate..erm..talking about my job at the moment, I..erm..I..first of all, I live in Spain..erm..I’m English, but..er.. I..I came across Spanish in Spain really from travelling in South America, which I did just after university. Erm…and after that, after I’d had some fun there I moved to Spain with the British Council, doing a teaching, kind of a teaching training project.

Whi…Which British Council school did you work at?

It…oh…it was called the Intxixu Ikastola which is in Basque, not Spanish in fact,...erm..which was a great experience for teaching. It was small kids, it was kind of 5-year-olds to 10-year-olds. Erm…but I decided teaching wasn’t quite for me, and that’s when I got into working er..in a language school. Erm…which was a group of language schools with schools in the UK, the US, Australia..erm..and from then I’ve just I’ve..I’ve.. carried on really ever since that. I’ve moved from that school to a different school, and I’m now working in EC which is a group of ..er..schools; UK, US, South Africa and Malta.

Did you do any teaching when you were travelling around South America?

I didn’t actually, no. At that stage it was only a short trip and I just kind of fell in love with the Spa..well, you know, the Latin culture and that kind of thing, and..er.. basically enjoyed that. So I didn’t do any teaching there, but I applied for a placement with the British Council whilst I was travelling, and they placed me in Spain rather than South America. Th..they choose basically…erm..which turned out to be Bilbao.

So what made you decide t..to stay in Spain permanently?

Erm…oh..everything really. Compared to ..er..Sheffield, where I’m from, in the North of England there’s not much choice. Er..the weather, the food, the people…

How long have yo…how long have you been here?

Since 2001 nearly 10 years now.

About the same as me.

Yeah. No it’s lovely. I miss home. I do miss home. I love things about England, but..erm..I think I….

What do you miss….what do you miss the most?

Er…English breakfast..erm…pubs, my family, my friends..erm..TV, which I can get over here apparently, but I haven’t managed to fix that up yet..erm..but no I’m having a good time over here as well.

Ok so erm..why is it a good idea for Spanish students to study English abroad?

Oh..erm..loads of reasons, I would say..erm..personally, well s...speaking from my own experience learning another language and ..er..managing to kind of communicate everything and anywhere that you need is just…it’s amazing, it’s really rewarding..erm..apart from that obviously English with the majority people now and of course Spanish it’s kind of a vital element of your CV..of er.. working life..eerm..and apart from that of course, it’s great fun and I think it’s mind..er..I don’t know, it op..opens your mind a lot, it makes you much more culturally aware..erm..I definitely have become a much more er..open person than I was before..erm..and..well..no..I de..I definitely definitely recommend it..erm…

So if a…if a Spanish person..erm..living in Spain were thinking of going to study abroad, where would you recommend? Wh..what destinations are popular for Spanish people?

Erm..at the moment it.. it’s more European based I would say, the UK..Malta’s also a very popular destination in the summer time…erm…a lot of people don’t even know that Malta’s English speaking I don’t think but..erm..it definitely is, ..erm..and that’s become much more popular in recent years.

Erm…the US is on the up because I think, well prices, because of the weaker dollar in the last few years have er…have been much better. Air fares are much cheaper..erm..and then…well, New Zealand and Australia, South Africa they’re kind of more exotic destinations. Not as many people kind of, I think, kind of dare t..to make that big leap, but it’s definitely worth it if they can …erm..

My students often…. My students often ask me for recommendations, they say ..erm..”Do you prefer Ireland, or ..erm..or..maybe Wales or Scotland or England?”, and I tend to say that..erm.. Irish people are more open and friendly and they’re easier to talk to. What do you think?

Mmm..I suppose! Being English, it hurts to say it, but I think it probably might be true. Erm…although I do feel us English are changing, I really do. I think we’re also erm..I think...y’know England has become a much more multi-cultural society, and I think with that people have become more used to…kind of… we’re not so closed and English…and er…y’know..er.. private. So I think it’s….but Ireland is beautiful, it is, ..erm..and the people do have a very good reputation for their friendliness, definitely.

So, if the students decided to go abroad and study, what advice would you give?

Erm…I would definitely say go alone, and I know it’s harder..erm..but, as I said again from personal experience, I…when I first travelled to Spain and..er.. I was living in Bilbao I was totally alone, and th..the massive..erm.. advantage of that is that you learn the language so much quicker than if you go in a group of friends, because..erm.. obviously with your friends, y’know,  you’re speaking in your own language it’s…it’s much easier to stay in your group, than to ..erm..than to kind of break out..erm..as long as ..you know, if you’re very determined then you’re gonna get on with your course and make friends with others, then it’s fine to go in a group, but I think you’re kind of more forced into practising..erm..if you’re on your own

It’s very tempting, isn’t it, to.. to speak Spanish when you’re in a group of..of Spanish speakers?

Exactly, well it’s almost imposible..er..again, the Spanish, lovely people that they are, are very sociable and I, y’know, very talkative and it’s very… I think it’s hard to..to break out from that …if they’ve got…if the option’s there. So..erm.. I do try to recommend people to at least..at least, y’know, find accommodation on their own, even if they’re gonna go to the same destination as their friends..erm…maybe even different schools..and just yeah so as long as they’ve only got a limited time together.

Erm…and regarding a big city or a small town, erm… I think that really depends on the kind of person, y’know, the person considering going abroad.

That’s a…that’s a question that a lot of students ask me and I..and I really thi…I agree with you I really think it depends on what kind of…what they’re looking for. What sort of experience they’re looking for.

Exactly……exactly, I mean, we for example, in the UK we’ve got schools in the London, Cambridge and Brighton. Cambridge and Brighton are much smaller destinations, if it’s like…if it’s the first time somebody, y’know, leaves their home town, they’re from a small town, maybe they’re nervous, they’re quite young, then I would say maybe try…the first time try a smaller destination, like Cambridge or something  But if, y’know, if it’s somebody from Madrid who’s already been out a few times, well then go for London, make the most of it, definitely.

Do you think it’s true Lucy that there’s more of chance to..to speak and practise English in a smaller community, in a smaller town, than going to a big metropolis like London?

I guess so in a way, yes because you’re kind of in a more close knit community an..and maybe have more of an opportunity to mix with..erm.. with people from the city, from the town itself, but..erm..again, I think it depends on you..you have to…, as in the student, has to make the effort at the end of the day,.

Home stay. Erm..students also ask me whether they should go to home stay, stay with a family, or go to a hotel.

They’ve both got…they’ve both got advantages. Staying with a…a family obviously is wonderful, because y.. you get…you get the insight the culture. You’re living in a completely different..a different way, the food’s different the way people behave are different and you..you get a kind of…you get an extra support. When you go home at night, y’know, you’ve got your adopted mum or dad or both and brothers and sisters and that kind of thing, which is..which I think is a great experience ..erm..it can be difficult for students..erm.. because you have to be ready, I think, to adapt..erm..you’re not gonna eat at the same time, for example, as in Spain., you’re gonna have to eat a lot earlier. Erm…the food might not…might not be as nice as to what you’re used to with your..with your mum and your dad..erm..but I think as long as you go with an open mind, it’s …it’s a great experience..erm..and as long as you’re ready to, at the beginning, to feel a little bit..er..y’know, a little bit “.oo..what’s going on here?”..erm..after a while you’ll soon settle in, you just have to give it a week or so and then most people are extremely happy doing..er.. staying at an English family. Erm.. and wi..with hotels or residences..we…we normally work with..erm…student residences where we..where we..place, y’know, students from all over the world…erm…that experience is great because obviously you’re mixing with loads of people, normally of a similar age to you, from all sorts of countries, so you can make loads of friends and normally those friendships last for years, and you go and visit them in their countries afterwards, that kind of thing. Erm…so both have their…both have..have advantages really, again it depends on..on the person travelling, I would say, and what they want out of it.

I have spoken to students who have had bad experiences in…in home stay situations. Erm…what would…what would your schools do in that situation, if a ..if a student came to you and said, “I’m not happy, I don’t like the food, the people aren’t very nice to me…”

Yeah, erm…to be honest, as I’ve just said now if that happens a lot, at least at the very beginning, because I think a lot of people are quite…it’s quite difficult to adapt. I mean it’s very important..erm.. for people to kind of advise that, y’know, at the beginning it will, it might be a little bit difficult, but maybe to try and hang in there and see if it gets better, which I would say 95% of..of people who..who come unhappy to me, normally within a week or two are perfectly fine. Erm…in the case that it’s not ok, schools in general, and definitely our school, erm…we inspect our families on a monthly or bimonthly basis..erm..we go and visit them, we check out the room, we, y’know, we sign a contract with them for the kind of services that they have to offer..erm..and so schools should be controlling that very well. Erm..y’know, it..there can always be an exception, but it’s..it’s really very rare..erm…and, yeah as I said, I think the majority of the problems are more adaptation rather than actually, y’know actually about the family.

And so be flexible is your advice, be prepared to adapt and..er.. fit in…and be flexible..

Definitely, definitely. And, as I’ve said, I, I mean, I’ve done the same thing myself in Spain, at the beginning things are so different it is hard, erm.. but remember y’know, you’re doing this for a reason, you’re learning English, it is going to be a bit difficult at the beginning..erm.. and it’s definitely, y’know, just be a bit patient and..er.. open-minded, I’d say.

Exactly. Apart from home stays, hotels, accommodation, what other things should students take into consideration when they…when they study abroad.

Erm..well, obviously I mean, Spanish may not have this problem too much , but there are things like visas..erm..obviously airfares, medical insurance..erm..most..I mean you can..you can either reserve these yourself, or obviously with..er..with the person you’re..you’re reserving your course with…erm…but erm …I mean, yeah, there are a lot of…there’s also airport pick ups. A lot of people when they arrive at the..er..in a foreign country like to have somebody waiting for them to collect them and take them to their..erm..accommodation which..which kind of gives you a feeling of…a feeling of security, I think..erm..

OK, well, ..erm..is their anything you’d like to add because I’m out of questions?

Erm…the only thing I can say is if you’re considering studying abroad, do it. It’s erm..it’s an amazing experience. As I’ve said, I’ve done it myself, I now speak Spanish fluently, and it’s just…it’s so rewarding. And people really appreciate it if you can go up to them, being a foreigner, and speak to them, y’know, in their own language. It’s..er..it’s a great experience.

How long did it …how long did it take you to feel comfortable with Spanish?

Erm..it took me to be..to be comfortable I’d say about 8 months, and to be fluent it took me a year, just over a year. Erm…so, I mean, it..er..it sounds a long time, but..erm.. it’s definitely, definitely worth it and you can easily, I mean, just to improve your level, you can do that in, y’know, in just a few weeks. As long as you kind of immerse yourself in it, as I’ve said.

Most of my students don’t have the luxury to go long term, they tend to go maybe over the summer, maybe for..for the Easter break or Christmas break. And I always… I strongly recommend it, and I always say that maybe a month in England, if you’re not speaking Spanish, is probably worth at least..erm.. a term, two terms of study here in Spain.

Exactly, even..even a couple of weeks the amount you can get…’cos it’s not just the course you can do, it’s…it’s  the time in the afternoon, your activities speaking in English with other people, you go back to your family, it’s just a…such an intensive ..erm..

The going shopping, the going to the cinema …speaking…asking for directions in the street….

Everything …yeah


No the…even a week, y’know, I mean the longer you can go the better, but if it’s a week, if it’s two weeks, if it’s a month, you’ll, I mean, you’ll.. every student sees the..the major progress that you can make even in such a short time. Definitely.

Do your schools offer week..erm..erm..courses? Because on…on the Internet they seem to be two-week minimum.

Yeah, no…we do offer …I mean, as..as you said,..as you said that you recommend a month, we do recommend at least two weeks, ‘cos a week doesn’t really give you that much time even to settle in, but..erm…we do offer special, especially for professionals..erm..intensive courses for a week, ‘cos a lot of, y’know, people  working might not have even two weeks to spare for English. So what we normally try to do for the week-long courses is make it very intensive, maybe up to 30 even 40 lessons a week..erm..and just really immerse yourself in the language to make it worthwhile.

Absolutely, it takes more than a week to get used to the English breakfasts!

Yeah, you’ll be…yeah..you’ll just get used to them and you won’t get used to missing them, so you have to be at least two weeks, exactly!

Hay información en castellano sobre viajar en Gran Bretaña, EEUU y Irlanda en la sección de recursos de La Mansión del Inglés:




Help - Ayuda

to come across = encontrar(se)

to turn out = resultar

to fix up = arreglar

loads of = (a lot of, much/many) montones, toneladas

rewarding = gratificante

on the up = (getting better, improving) subiendo

to hurt = doler, herir, lastimarse

to break out = evadirse, escaparse

gonna = going to

to go abroad = irse al extranjero

close knit = unido

to settle in = instalarse, adaptarse

to hang in there = aguantar, tener paciencia, no darse por vencida

to check out = echar un vistazo

airport pick up = buscada, recogida del aeropuerto

foreigner = extranjera/o

to be worth it/to be worthwhile = valer la pena

to immerse = sumergir

'cos = because




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