Ordering a Beer…and Other Important Reasons for Learning Spanish

Penny Hierons didn’t think she was capable of learning another language. Now she makes a living as a Spanish-to-English translator…and she lives on the beautiful southeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain.

“I assumed I just didn’t have the bit of the brain that involved doing languages because I’d never shown any inclination or talent for them. But that wasn’t true.”

Penny fell in love with Spain some 20 years ago after visiting Barcelona for a vacation, and returned 10 years later—for good.

“I spoke nothing,” she recalls. “I had four phrases: por favor (please), gracias (thank you), vino (wine) and cerveza (beer). But nobody could understand me when I said cerveza. It was like: ‘For God’s sake, I can’t even order a beer.'”

She immediately enrolled in a 10-week, three-hour-a-day, intensive Spanish course and later signed on for another 10 weeks.

“By the end we’d gone through every tense and conjugation so reading had become easier but I still couldn’t really speak,” she says.

But Penny didn’t give up. A voracious reader, she began buying any kind of secondhand book she could get her hands on, and says her level further improved when she started dating a Spaniard.

“It’s like magic when the words suddenly turn into something that you can understand,” she says. “When I first started studying I would watch The Simpsons in Spanish to see if I could understand anything. At first I could identify just the odd word here and there.

“I remember going into class and studying a new word and then coming back, watching The Simpsons and lo and behold that exact same word would appear in the program.”

Within four years, Penny’s Spanish was so advanced she was able to start making a comfortable living as a freelance Spanish-to-English translator.

“I can’t imagine, now, that I couldn’t speak Spanish,” she says. “I miss speaking it even if I’m only away for a week.”


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