Featured Student of the Week: Neil Marchington

By Sarah Eckert | 2-minute read

Neil Marchington is an explorer, and venturing through the depths of the Spanish language is only part of the story. In the rural mountains of Mexico, he participates in regular caving expeditions as part of a non-profit group, helping to discover what is there and acting as one of the group’s translators. “We’ve found some really awesome new caves down there, some of them very deep and complicated,” Neil says.

On caving expeditions, roads are limited and the local ranching communities are like family. Hardly anyone speaks English, so being able to communicate effectively in Spanish is very important. This is what drove Neil to seek out Bend Language Institute. Although he is no newcomer to Spanish, he registered for a Spanish II class this spring to rejuvenate his skills and deepen his knowledge about the language for use on his frequent travels. He is particularly interested in refreshing his understanding of the various past tenses, which he says can get quite complicated in Spanish.

Neil has lived in Bend since 1997 and enjoys all the outdoor experiences Central Oregon has to offer, including skiing, mountaineering, and rock climbing. He was born in Italy and hopes to learn how to speak Italian one day. He’s been all over the world, including living in Japan and picking up some of the Japanese language as a child. He says his travels are far from over. Aside from continuing his caving expeditions in Mexico, he plans to visit Cuba and Spain in the future.

Something he’s found to be important is that language doesn’t follow black and white rules. There’s the Spanish in a textbook and then there’s the Spanish that people actually speak, and the dialects change between different Spanish speaking countries.

The exposure he is getting to various dialects through his teacher and classmates with different backgrounds is one thing Neil really appreciates about learning at BLI. “I think all of us are going to leave this class, including the teacher, having learned things that help us become better at understanding the different nuances of the language,” he reflects fondly.

He also loves the personalized experience of being in a smaller class. “We have a class size of four which is a lovely student to teacher ratio,” he explains. “You get a lot of individualized attention and a tailored class in a lot of ways that you just wouldn’t have in a bigger class. We all get along great, and I think we really feel like we’re all in this together, helping each other build our skills.”

He is a firm believer in the value of in person classes for learning a language. “More and more folks are thinking they can get by with things like Google Translate,” he says, “but being a fairly decent Spanish speaker, I can attest to how often it is wrong or vastly out of context. There is a big difference between ‘grapefruit’ and ‘grape the fruit.’” He thinks these online tools can be helpful for building vocabulary, but they are not nearly as useful as having face-to-face interactions with other Spanish speakers.

His advice for anyone thinking about traveling abroad is to spend some months or even years learning the local language before going. It will make travel easier and open many doors. He believes, “When people see you making an effort to speak their language, they’re more likely to interact with you, be open with you. There are just so many opportunities to have some amazing experiences that would not exist without that bridge.”

Talking to Neil about his language learning and travels inspired me greatly. It made me think about the unknown, the mysterious beauty of the world, and the opportunities there are to discover new things when we lean into our lives with curious minds.