Learning For Love: How One Man Learned Spanish For His Son’s Wedding

How did one Brit learn Spanish for his son’s wedding to a Spanish woman? With a lot of love, and a little help from Babbel.

Image credit: Ángeles Fernández / Foto Comas

It’s a beautiful day in the province of Jáen in Southern Spain. The September sun beats down on a sea of wedding guests sitting in clusters at white-clothed tables. The newlyweds hold hands and beam with pride as the father-of-the-groom delivers his speech.

Guests laugh uproariously at Dave Bottomley’s perfect blend of cheeky anecdotes and happy recollections. As he makes a final toast the crowd break into applause, some of them so enthused that they rise from their chairs. And in this case, a standing-ovation is very well-deserved — because 66-year-old Dave just delivered his speech entirely in Spanish, a language that he couldn’t speak a word of a year ago.

Dave and his wife Carol were enjoying their retirement in the sleepy town of Chepstow in Southern Wales when their son Stewart called from Spain to tell them he’d met someone special. So special, in fact, that he wanted his parents to meet her.

Delighted, Dave and Carol traveled to Spain to meet the special lady, Atanea, and her extended family. But when they arrived there was one tiny problem.

“We stayed with them for a week, but the problem was that they couldn’t speak a word of English — and we not a word of Spanish!” says Dave. Atanea acted as translator, frantically running between conversations to ensure everyone was understood. By the end of the week, Atanea felt exhausted and Dave felt determined. He wanted to support his son and connect with his in-laws on a deeper level, so the moment they touched down in the UK Carol and Dave signed up for Spanish lessons.

The pair took classes in their local leisure center but found it difficult to make progress. “We found that going once a week didn’t get us very far, so we carried on with the evening classes and started a day class as well.” Even so, their lesson time amounted to only four hours per week. So, after a bit of research, the pair downloaded Babbel.

The couple would set aside time every day to complete the exercises on their app and then sit down at their kitchen table, testing each other’s Español over a cup of tea.

“I didn’t think an app would help much,” Dave says, “however, it was especially handy because I could refer to it whenever it suited me and I used it much more than the four hours a week we had spent in classes.”

Dave and Carol were making steady progress and beginning to enjoy their Spanish and tea routine when they received another phone call from Stewart. This time it was to tell them he’d asked Atanea to marry him — and she’d said yes.

Now Stewart had another big question to pop: Would Dave make the father-of-the-groom speech?

Stewart was happy to hear his second “yes” of the day, but Dave knew he had some work to do. He and Carol cranked their Babbel-usage up a gear to prepare for the big day.

Fast forward to eight months later: The September sun beats down on Dave as he stands in front of the sea of wedding guests. They look at him expectantly but the words get stuck in his throat. He glances over to Stewart who gives him a thumbs up and a wink that means “G’wan Dad!” And with that Dave launches into his speech. Dave’s months of hard work and determination come together in one beautiful (slightly grammatically incorrect, distinctly Welsh-accented) expression of love for his son and his new wife.

The happy couple beams on their big day.

No wonder he received a standing ovation. But Atanea’s family were applauding more than Dave’s speech. They were applauding Dave’s display of commitment and respect for their culture. Through learning Spanish, Dave showed his new in-laws that he wants to be part of their lives and that he cares deeply about his daughter-in-law. After all, she couldn’t go around frantically translating forever.

After they’d waved Stewart and Atanea off on their honeymoon, Dave and Carol went on a road trip around Spain. The pair loved testing their new Spanish skills and found the experience extremely rewarding. “I found the Spanish people very friendly once I tried to make conversation. Although I could not construct complex sentences, I could make myself understood, and I understood what was said back to me,” Dave says.

Through Babbel, Dave and Carol were able to build deep, lasting relationships with their new family. Dave says “I am very pleased to be learning another language even if sometimes it can be a little frustrating. I would recommend anybody learn a different language, especially as one gets older. It is a great way to keep the brain working.”

And it’s a great way to show how much you care.

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