Here at Kwiziq, we're a mixed team of language enthusiasts, with different approaches to how and where we most enjoy using our language skills. Dotted around the globe working from home offices, we don't often get a chance to sit down and have a chat. So I thought it would be a good idea to get to know some of my colleagues better and introduce them to you through a series of interviews.
Today I'm talking to Silvia Píriz, one of our Spanish Experts.
Hola Silvia, can you describe your role here at Kwiziq?
¡Hola Rowen! As a native Spanish teacher my main responsibility is to create engagement in the Spanish blog posts and exercises, like the Writing Challenges, also the readers, gapfills, etc. I have to promote Spanish culture as well, by introducing students to Spanish customs and way of life, but always aiming for fun, educational and enjoyable activities to ensure that they don't offend the sensitivity of our students. And also, the last few months, I've been participating in producing some visual materials for social media because we really want to expand in this area, for marketing and also teaching, which I really enjoy.
Which languages do you speak?
Spanish, fluent English and French as well. My native Spanish is from the north of Spain and I also have some knowledge of Basque, which is the native language from this area. It's quite hard to learn. I learnt it in school – it was compulsory until the age of 18 – and it's considered an exotic language within Europe. From my point of view, I think that being raised within a bilingual community helps with the process of picking up other languages as well.
What's the origin of the Basque language - which other language is it like?
The thing is, they can't find the root of the language - where it originated. There are some different theories: they say that maybe it could come from African languages, it could come from Georgian, there are different theories, but it's not really been confirmed. It's really different - the word formation, the word order as well… there are a lot of Latin words, obviously, but the language is older than Latin. It's one of the oldest languages in Europe. So it's quite interesting. In Basque I can really understand the TV programmes, for example I can understand the news and everything, but I can't speak it fluently.
Do they have a range of programmes in the Basque language or is there one channel all in Basque?
There's one channel in Basque. It's very funny to see all the American films dubbed into Basque! I have some friends who work in that industry, in fact.
And your French, did you study that at school, or …?
Yes, it was the first language I studied at university. Also, I lived in France for a year, working as a Spanish teacher. I lived in Angoulème, which is near to Poitiers. So that was a really good experience. That's how I managed to build up my experience as a Spanish teacher.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?
I would live in Spain, of course! I think the perfect place, regardless of the country, is somewhere where you can have the right work-life balance. Because, if you don't have that - nothing matters. You can live in the best country but if you can't enjoy it, it doesn't matter. So for me, the dream place to live would be on the Mediterranean coast, somewhere in a little town or village. Because there are many sunny days and I love the sun and it has one of the healthiest and happiest lifestyles to live in the world, I think.
What do you think the right 'work-life balance' is for you?
It means for me, in my culture, living comes first and work comes afterwards.
It's a question of 'live to work' or 'work to live'. I think when you cross that line of working all the time and leaving your own needs to one side, and not spending time on yourself at some point, I think you aren't doing things well. That's what I think.
Do you think that attitude is part of Spanish culture?
Yes, I think it is, because when I was living in England I could feel a bit of a difference between the work-life balance between there and Spain. I think in Spain family comes first, and socialising too, and in Britain it's work, I think.
What are three things about you that most people don't know ?
1. I had to think hard about this because in general, I don't have secrets, but maybe most people don't know that I was terrible at maths at secondary school. I didn't understand the subject and I finally managed to get a grade 6, with private tuition to improve on it. So it was a challenge for me to be honest.
2. Also now, I'm doing something that no-one would expect, I think: I'm catching up with my driving skills, because when I was living in England I didn't drive at all. And now, when I'm back here I need a car obviously. To have more freedom and movement. So I'm taking some lessons right now in order to get confident again and buy a new car. Hopefully I'll finally close the chapter. I took a package of ten lessons that I've already done and now I'm getting some practice with my friends and my goal is to buy a car in the next few weeks hopefully.
3. I love playing online games on my phone. What I like is to play sports like basketball, bowling and also I like Ludo, which is a very traditional game here in Spain.
Do you play the games with someone else who's online at the same time as you?
Yes, it's through an app connected to Facebook and they assign you a player (or you can play with friends if you want) but it's something that people can feel embarrassed about, so I like working with a random person assigned by the app. And it's nice because every person, depending on the country as well, you can realise that they have a different strategy. It's nice.
What's your favourite word in French / Spanish / English?
My favourite word in Spanish is the verb estrenar because the direct translation doesn't exist in many languages. I find that funny. It means to wear something for the first time, for example when you're wearing a skirt for the first time - you don't just have one word to say that, you know?
Wow - you're right, yes the only thing that comes to mind is saying, 'wearing something in' - like new shoes specifically - but that's more about making them softer and fit more comfortably. So, yeah, there's nothing that expresses in one word that you're wearing something for the first time!
I also like the word in French méli-mélo just for the sound of it. Meaning jumble, muddle - a mix of many things. I just love the sound.
What's the most unusual situation you used your foreign language knowledge in?
When I was a child, I was very excited about languages. I always wanted to find any situation to use the language because here there aren't any English speakers, so one day I was with some friends and we decided to play a joke on the phone, calling random numbers, so that day I called customer service, pretending to be a British girl having a problem with my landline and I was mocking the accent, obviously. I'm not sure if the other person on the other side understood any English, I don't know, but he really tried very hard to offer me a solution. He was trying to make himself understood all the time! It was the only way when I was a child to get a selection on the phone, you know the thing 'if you want to use English, press one, if you want French, press two…' it was the only way, because we didn't have the internet like now. So it might seem a naughty thing to do, but it was totally naive! I was like, 12 years old, or something like that…
What language-related achievement are you most proud of?
For me the most important thing I achieved - now, up to this moment I think - is being able to have worked in different countries, where Spanish is not their first language. Because I think if you don't work in a foreign country, you don't understand and get the grasp of the language, so if you're able to work in a different country it means that you have a really high level, that you can face different situations… And also it's very hard in the beginning to get used to it, to get used to the culture, so once you think that you're in charge of the situation, I think that for your self esteem, it's very good. You think, "I can do anything now!" I had an intermediate level in French when I left Spain for France. I had a very strong level at grammar but my speaking and listening wasn't that good, because I hadn't been exposed to the language… so when I arrived, for the first two weeks it was really hard, but after two weeks, that's when your ear becomes used to it, you start to make links with things, everything falls into place and makes sense. I also feel proud because there were some people trying to discourage me, saying, "oh why are you going there, you're not going to understand, it's going to be a hard time for you…" I had some friends that were good friends, who were supportive, but there were others that didn't want me to go and 'leave them' you know… So I have always acted by myself, like, obviously so I can go and teach and things, but in the end, the decision was mine. But I feel that some people, they really wanted to stop me from doing things. But when I really like something I do it, you know?
And when you were living in England, were you already advanced level English?
No I wasn't. The first year was really hard. I was doing my GTP programme, and I was basically learning English at the same time. So that was the hardest year for me. The first year - in 2011.
And how long do you think it took you to get comfortable with the language, for it not to feel 'painful'?
Six months. Six months I think, in a proper context. To be able to develop a conversation with someone. Also the problem was that I was always at the school, doing the GTP [General Teacher Programme = a British Council venture to recruit foreign language teachers] so I was feeling like I wasn't getting specific situations, I was at the school all the time so the vocabulary for school was really high but then, vocabulary about gardening or something was zero. I knew almost nothing beyond how to say a tree, a plant… I mean, it's just an example, but I couldn't say anything about that, I was always having to explain myself, and it was very tiring in the end.
What do you most enjoy using your foreign language knowledge/skills for?
Since I'm a very sociable person, I really like talking, travelling as well is my first passion - obviously in a world without Covid - and I really enjoy being with people from other countries. I have a lot of curiosity always, when I meet someone from another country that I have never been to, talking to the person about the place, what they do, I really like that, and also moving around in the world, without the handicap of not speaking the local language. I think it's really useful to have that knowledge.
What one feature about Kwiziq do you like most?
What I like the most is the working atmosphere. I'm very happy to work in an international environment, also people respect each other a lot, timetables, ways of thinking with different people from different parts of the world. I think it's amazing the team we have. And we always strive for the best, how we can reach perfection and improve on things… it's quite natural and spontaneous I think. And everyone contributes, in different ways and it has a positive impact so everyone really matters here, that's what I find. Even if we don't get to know each other very much, everyone is accepted in this company.
How do you think this team ethos relates to the experience of the company for our users?
According to the comments that I read sometimes, I think many people are aware that we are like a complex human-machine. It's not just KwizBot, you know, behind Kwizbot there are many people working so that the resources are ready and published on time, we're engaging with students, so that they realise that there's a lot of work going on behind it. It's not just an automatic system correcting exercises and kwizzes.
What's your superpower?
My superpower, I think, is determination. My determination to be successful in life. I think I've always been a determined person, going through different life experiences with failures as well as successes and they made me become the person I am now, so I don't regret anything that I did wrong in the past because everything has helped me to be the person I am now.
And what does success mean for you?
Being able to live by myself without depending on my parents. I think that's a big thing. Especially in this country now - well, you have to take into account that most Spaniards live at home because they cannot get a house by themselves because they don't have any work. So many people still live with their parents. It's hard for them to get independence. So for me, I'm very proud that when I finished university I was able to do many things by myself and not be dependent on people. Also, for me - getting what I wanted was important. I wanted to be a teacher, so, ok, I'm going to get it. I'm not going to stop until I get it. I'm very stubborn when, for example I have to learn a new skill, ok, I have to learn it well. Like a sport or swimming or something I really go for perfection, it's not that I start and then I leave. Or if I commit to a diet, I go for it until the end. That's something I feel very proud of because some people they just give up…
What language do you wish you spoke?
If I were a child again, I'd like to learn Chinese. Mandarin. Because obviously there is a boom of the language in the business world, and also the culture, treatments, everything. There are more and more Chinese people working with us in our countries in general, so I think that would be good for integration. Because I find that there is a barrier between Chinese people and local people in the different cities, so maybe learning the language would be friendlier - to help them integrate as well.
Gracias Silvia! More interviews with the rest of the team coming soon!