“My mind started working in English” (Yoli Florido on basketball, college and life in a foreign language) – avagu press

This is the second post in a series I call “Yarns”, where I speak with people from all walks of life about their travel and language learning experiences, and share their stories.

Yoli is from southern Spain and spent four years in West Virginia (USA), where she received a full college scholarship as a basketball player. She recently returned to Spain, where she continues to play basketball professionally and use her English skills.

She took on the challenge of living her life in a whole new country, speaking a foreign language. Her energy motivates us all to dare to do daunting things – enjoy the conversation!

How did you end up in the United States? Have you always wanted to go there?

I went to a basketball tournament, and some people wanted to talk to me about going to the United States. He was someone from an agency that sends people to the United States. I had never thought of that before, because it was kind of scary not knowing English.

So you just seized the opportunity?

Yes. In Spain it is very important to know another language. My sisters had to go to England to learn English for work. I knew at some point that I was going to need English. Besides, in Spain, it’s really difficult to play basketball while studying. They are not together. In America, on campus, the schedules adapt better.

My last year of high school, I had to take the TOEFL and SAT while I was studying, while all my friends were preparing for a final test after high school, which is the one it takes in Spain to go to school. ‘university.

I remember one day I was at school with my friends, having lunch, and someone called me. It was a university in the United States, and they actually wanted me to go there. They told me they really wanted me, and when I got the grades, that was enough for me to go to that school. I was not expecting it at all.

Were you excited to learn English or did you feel like you had to?

I was pretty bad at English. I was terrible, I knew nothing. In school, I barely made it – it was the worst subject I had. But, when I went to the United States, the experience was really motivating. At the beginning, my freshman year, I barely spoke. I mostly listened, just trying to take it all in. Then I started to be less afraid to speak.

There were many students who spoke Spanish, from Mexico and Guatemala. At first I tried to talk to people who spoke Spanish, but then I didn’t want to, because I was trying to learn as much English as possible before coming back to Spain. So I started having more American friends.

Was it frustrating at all?

I had really good grades in high school, so I’ve never been in a position where I didn’t have those grades. I thought, “Is this going to change?” But, once I started taking more classes and socializing more, I forced myself to talk. If you want to survive, you have to! The frustration subsided, because I started getting better.

There were still times when it was hard to understand. When I learned English in Spain, it was British English, so some words were different. I remember on my first day of school, I didn’t know much, but I know how to ask for my schedule. So, I went and said, “Excuse me, can I have my schedule for the semester?” But, they couldn’t understand what I was trying to say, because Americans use the word “program!” It’s the tiniest words, which you don’t think will make a difference, but they don’t understand.

There was a girl, and her accent sounded like she had a potato in her mouth. I used to tell her, I try, but I can’t understand when you’re talking. There was no way!

Has English affected your basketball game?

I was in my own bubble. I did not understand. A lot of time, I was so confused. I used to wait for my teammates to do the exercise to understand.

Once, I remember being in a match that we were losing, and my coach yelled at me, “Don’t make a mistake”. But, I was so far away from my coach, in the middle of the match, and I had to react so quickly. So I made a mistake, because I just heard “foul!” He said it was fine, it wasn’t my fault…but he was pretty angry at the time.

There are always things in a language that cannot be translated. Do you have something in Spanish that you struggle to communicate in English?

The main thing was the jokes. I really struggled with the jokes in English. I would just say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Now I have returned to Spain, and it is the opposite! Now my mind has started cracking jokes and functioning in English, so it’s hard for me to crack jokes or say certain things from my mind in Spanish.

Do you still speak English now that you are back in Spain?

There are two other girls on my basketball team who only speak English. One is from America and the other was born in Tokyo, and I live with them. They offered us an apartment, because the rest of my teammates live in that city, but I’m not from that city. I’m the only player in the team who speaks English and Spanish, so they use me to translate at the club.

In fact, I like to speak English. To work you need a certificate showing your level in English, and now I’m trying to get the highest, so I’m studying for it. The last one is C2, and that’s the one I’m trying to get now. I also teach English to children during my free time.

Do you like teaching English? How does this compare to when you were learning English?

I’m not a very patient person, so I would never have thought of working with children, but it’s actually very interesting. A teacher who teaches from experience is not the same as one who teaches from books. I have a book, but I’m trying to adapt it so they actually know the important stuff. In the book there is a lot of grammar and vocabulary, but it is not natural.

My English teachers had learned English as a second language, and they did not require a high level of English for teachers. I think it could have been so much better for me if my teachers had known English. Even when I went to America, there were a lot of people learning Spanish, but the teachers couldn’t even talk to me in Spanish.

For very young children, you don’t need to be fluent to teach them. But, it’s just not the same to have a teacher who speaks English, where if you don’t understand you have to adapt, versus a teacher who gives you what you need to study on paper and speaks to you in Spanish. It’s different, and your brain doesn’t work as much. It’s a different process.

“My name is Yolanda Florido, I’m 22 years old and I was born in Malaga (Spain). My last four years I studied a double major in Business Administration and Marketing and a minor in Health Administration in West Virginia (USA). I graduated in May 2022, and now I play professional basketball in northern Spain (Galicia), while teaching English in a primary school.

Yolanda writes blogs about Spain, which you can read at: https://moyermemoirs.com/.

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