"Hola", says Adriana as she opens the door. She prefers to teach by immersing you in conversation rather than textbooks. This paperless theme continues with an email follow-up containing notes after each lesson, which is both eco-friendly and helps keep costs down for students. We start at the very beginning. I learn "Yo soy Mark". I am Mark. Then comes the first challenge. Spanish has two verbs where we just use 'to be'. "Yo soy Mark. Yo estoy en Lewes." Being Mark and being in Lewes are very different. Still, I'm progressing. Pretty soon we're having a conversation about nationality, location and health in a language I couldn't speak less than 30 minutes ago.
I'd heard that Spanish was relatively easy for English speakers to pick up. In reality, Spanish spelling may not have the inconsistencies of English but learning new words still requires plenty of effort. After just half-an-hour I begin to worry that my brain simply isn't big enough. It's certainly not like a scene from The Matrix when people can literally be programmed with new skills. I'm reminded of childhood piano lessons and the need for daily practice. Somehow I don't imagine introducing myself in Spanish every morning would have the same effect as Mr Cleese's Russian poem.
When my lesson is over, Adriana tells me she's lived in Lewes for almost 15 years, having previously taught English in her native Argentina. Her clients range from retirees holidaying on the Costa Brava to voluntary workers heading for Latin America. She's also part of a group of Lewes-based Spanish speakers who regularly meet and chat just to maintain and improve their language skills. That level of fluency seems a long way off for me.
However, Adriana has a few tips to help me and anyone else learning Spanish. First of all, set aside time for studying. Work hard and you could be fluent after a year. Buy a copy of Spanish newspaper El Pais from a newsagent, she suggests, and look at the international news stories. Watch Spanish cookery videos and listen to Spanish radio stations on the internet. And if you're really serious, visit Spain's Cervantes Institute in London, which has a multimedia library and also runs free cultural events throughout the year.
But first, it's homework time. ¿Quién eres? Soy Mark.
Spanish tutor Adriana Blair can be contacted on 476982.
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 88 January 2014.