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News > Old Girls > Sarah Lucy Cooper (Class of 1987)

Sarah Lucy Cooper (Class of 1987)

Sarah Lucy Cooper from the Class of 1987 remembers her former Spanish teacher, Miss Wilkinson, and the huge impact that she had on her life.
10 May 2018
Old Girls
Once upon a time I was a 13 year old who selected Spanish as my second language. I had the very good fortune of being taught by a wonderful and inspiring young teacher called Miss Wilkinson who was straight out of Cambridge. For the years to O level she drilled in the grammar but never lost sight of the joy of the language and its vocabulary. I even managed to read a book in Spanish about the Civil War -  El Otro Arbol de Guernica - a book now apparently included on the A level syllabus (how times have changed!). We learnt all the tenses, the subjunctive - always in use, unlike in French - as well as lots of fun vocabulary about food and drink. Miss Wilkinson also explained the Arabic roots of some of the words such as Ojala - 'let’s hope'.

I harboured secret desires to be a judge and so in preparation for my Spanish O level oral exam I practised with Miss Wilkinson all of the Spanish vocabulary about judges and courts to impress the examiner. I was later told by Miss Wilkinson that the examiner had never heard anything like it, probably thinking what a complete so and so...!

I chose not to carry on with Spanish at A level but I never lost my love of the Spanish language and after graduating in 1990, and not having used Spanish for five years, I travelled to Colombia and lived in Bogota for a year. Life was rather difficult turning up in Colombia with scant Spanish and a thick European-Spanish accent. No-one understood me when I said cien with a heavy 'th' and it was a rather dangerous place in 1990 during the drugs war as well as an ongoing civil war. However I totally fell in love with the place and the people and Colombia is still a major part of my personal and cultural life, as well as my work life - from supporting Colombia in the football, to dancing salsa, to loving the wonderful literature, music and art that Colombia produces: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner, Shakira and Balvin Singh, pop stars and the sculptor, Botero.

I became a family barrister dealing with Spanish and Latin American clients using my Spanish every day of the week. My colleagues find it absolutely hilarious when I am screeching down the phone in Spanish interspersed with the odd English word. Every time someone rings up my office who is not a native English speaker they are put through to me on the assumption that they must be a Spanish speaker - often they are not! My Spanish speaking friends tell me that in fact I speak faster in Spanish than I do in English, which for a barrister is saying something.

Eventually, I did indeed get appointed as a part time judge as a result of which I really wanted to contact Miss Wilkinson to tell her that my dream really had come true! Thanks to the sterling efforts of the school Archivist, Judith Curati, I have just managed to get in contact with her. The now Mrs Elliott is flourishing as the Head of Channing School and has apparently just done a sky dive!

I eat, dream, work and sing in Spanish. Thank you so much, Miss Wilkinson. 

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