Paige: You're listening to “Coffee with Gringos”, I’m Paige Sutherland, and here with me today is Tomás Silva. Tomás, thanks for being here.
Tomás: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.
Paige: So, since you have not been on the show before, just introduce yourself a little bit to the listeners. Where you're from, what you do for a living.
Tomás: My name is Tomás, I'm Chilean, originally from Osorno, a town in the south of Chile—ten hours by car. I’m thirty years old, believe it or not. I work as a data scientist in a Chilean company called Acepta. And we do a lot of, like, digital solutions for our clients and big companies. I practice a lot of sports. I enjoy life in general.
Paige: Well, Tomás is being a little shy. He's actually a professional arm wrestler. So not just practicing sports, you're at an elite level, and it's something that a lot of people don't do, especially not in Chile. So, tell us a little bit about how you got into arm wrestling.
Tomás: Yeah. Yeah. So, Paige is right a pretty serious about sports. I practice arm wrestling, in a very professional level. I don't make a living out of it, but I compete internationally. I currently hold second place in South America with my right arm, under 80 kilograms. At that level you have to be very serious about it. You have to practice. It's funny how everybody thinks that it's just like a recreational sport, everybody has heard of it. Everybody has tried, but yeah, there are rules, there are tables, professional measurements, professional referees, leagues, tournaments, like every other sport.
Paige: I think one of the most interesting things about arm wrestling is the common pre-conception is that if you see a big guy, big arms, you know, huge, that he's good at arm wrestling. What would you say to that?
Tomás: Oh, that is so far from the truth. I thought so, at the beginning, too. I mean, a big guy will always be strong but, like, what really sets apart an arm wrestler is the strength in the forearm, and the hand. Also, the fingers. You see these big guys with huge biceps, backs. But the main thing for a professional athlete in arm wrestling is the ability to have hand control. A professional arm wrestler could look like any normal guy but if you take a look at their hands and forearms, that's where you'll see that the big difference.
Paige: And so, speaking of that in your career so far, has there been someone that you've been up against that weighs quite a lot more than you, but you won the match.
Tomás: Oh absolutely, absolutely. Even a guy who was trained for quite a bit. The guy in pounds, I don't know, 125 kilos, we're talking to 250 to 260 (pounds). I weigh 175 (pounds)—I was even weighing less at the time. And at that point I was maybe not as good as I am today, but the guy did not really have a lot of experience. He was like, you know, that sort of a big, muscle head in the gym, lifting a lot of weights, but he did not know how to train properly, it was so easy it was a technical match. I just took his hand, and with both arms, and it was done. Technique goes a long way, if the other guy doesn't know how to do it.
Paige: And it seems in arm wrestling, from what I've seen, is that the matches are pretty short. You're not talking, you know, couple minutes…it’s seconds, right?
Tomás: The average match goes for less than a second.
Paige: So far, you've competed internationally. What are some of the places you've been to?
Tomás: I've been to Argentina, several times. I've been to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador. I'm thinking of going to Brazil soon. In Chile, many times I've competed here for many, many times.
Paige: And I have to ask…how does Chile compare in the region, when it comes to arm wrestling?
Tomás: Yeah, everybody agrees that we're like this solid third place for sure. Brazil is number one by what it's a huge gap. Brazil has a lot of experience, a lot of people too , and they have a history. They've been doing this for a long time—they have the best trainers. They even have world champions. Then, after Brazil, Argentina. They've come a long way. They are really, really strong. And then, Chile. We have over fifty consistent competitors. Among those we’re about three to four that we're on like a different level, and we compete internationally.
Paige: And who's the top on the world stage?
Tomás: You would say USA, but…no, no, no. US is very good—at the level of Brazil, I would even say. Like, they're about equal. But the number one in the world, we're talking Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, all those, like, Middle Eastern countries. The government pays them to compete. So, it's a complete different culture. They have schools when you get started, you know, at a very young age. It's just, you adapt. Your muscles just grow with that training. So, I got started when I was 24 so it's not the same. If I had gotten started when I was little, it would have been a complete different story. I'm sure I would be better today.
Paige: I mean, it makes sense in all sports. And so, going back a little bit…let's chat about how you learned English. Obviously, you're fluent now. What did you do to get to where you are today?
Tomás: Yeah, I went to a school in the south where English was not, like, a strength—we all learned French. I went to a French school, so English was never a priority. When I was fifteen, I decided to go to the US on a foreign exchange program in Denver, Colorado—a little town, a suburb of Denver. And that's how I got started. It really, like, it tells you if you want to learn a new language you have to practice, you have to put yourself out there. If not, you can learn a bunch of grammar, a bunch of sentences, on how to do this, how to do that, even develop a lot of the listening skills. I know a lot of people that they're really good, they understand, they watch movies without subtitles. But if you want to get good at speaking and having a conversation you have to put yourself out there and I would always recommend living in the US or living in an English-speaking country. And I also made the effort to hang out with only people that didn't know any Spanish. I was lucky enough to be sent to Colorado where the Hispanic population is not very big. It was very tiring.
At the beginning, my English was not good at all. “Hola” “Hello” “My name is….” with a very Spanish accent. Then you realize that we have different pronunciations. In Spanish, the vowels are pronounced always the same. It's so different in English and you have to learn that. And it took me a while to really get to it. And I came back to Chile. I was definitely better than everybody else in my in my class. And I always pushed myself. It's funny, this is a little personal, but sometimes just to practice your pronunciation, your mouth, the positions are so different that to a point that where you need to develop that flexibility. For example, the word “better”. It was so hard to pronounce for me. I would say, “bed…bed… bedder”, but my tongue was not used to being in that position. You have to practice. It's like working out, like arm-wrestling. If you want to be good at it, you have to practice. So, I would just read a book out loud and make sure that I would pronounce everything right. Even sometimes when I wanted to really nail it, I would record myself and go back to the recording and make sure I was sounding OK. So, I am pretty dedicated when it comes to things I like.
Then, in university, I decided to do the same thing. So, I went to, I lived in Santa Barbara, California for over a year. It really helped me. I was more comfortable with my language. And then I came back to Chile again. I finished university and I found a job where I had to use English all the time. So, it really pushed me to be practicing a lot. I have to use English, every day, at the bank. After that point, I believe English has always been a part of who I am and I use it pretty often.
Paige: I guess to wrap up, looking back at all your time in the US, mastering the language, what would be the one tip you'd give someone who's struggling right now trying to learn.
Tomás: The number one tip I would give is live abroad, don't use your native language. You have to push yourself hard enough to adapt, learn. You could even go to, like, a different country but, you know, hang out with the people you feel more comfortable with. People from your same country or, like, you know, neighboring countries where they speak the same language. Don't do that—if that's your real goal, push yourself to use it. If not, you might learn some, not the same.
Paige: I agree. Well, thanks so much for chatting with us, Tomás, and I know that you have a competition coming up in a few weeks, so good luck in Argentina.
Tomás: Thank you.
KEY VOCABULARY, PHRASES AND SLANG
Do for a living (phrase): job, occupation
Example: I teach English for a living.
Shy (adjective): reserved or timid
Example: My sister does not talk very much because she is very shy around other people.
Arm-wrestling (noun): a sport involving two people trying to force each other’s arm onto a table using strength
Example: Arm-wrestling is a growing sport.
Elite (adjective): superior ability in something compared to others
Example: Arturo Vidal is an elite football player.
Get into (phrasal verb): to develop an interest in something
Example: I got into cooking when I moved to France.
Make a living (phrase): to earn enough money to support oneself financially
Example: I would love to make a living as a musician.
Recreational (adjective): for fun, not professional
Example: I enjoy playing recreational basketball on the weekends.
Referee (noun): official person who manages the rules and regulations during a sport event/match
Example: There are three referees for our football match.
Preconception (noun): idea or opinion formed without having evidence
Example: It’s a preconception that all cats dislike swimming.
Set apart (phrasal verb): to separate something from something else, usually referring to an ability
Example: What sets him apart from the others is his ability to score a goal from any place on the field.
Huge (adjective): very large
Example: That sandwich is huge! I don’t know if I can eat it all by myself.
Biceps (noun): muscle located on the upper-arm
Example: He is always lifting weights, so he has big biceps.
Muscle head (slang): a person who has big muscles and usually spends lots of time building their muscles
Example: There are always lots of muscle heads in the gym.
Solid (adjective): certain or strong
Example: He is always a solid competitor.
Gap (noun): a separation or difference between two objects in ability
Example: There is a big gap in understanding between the two students.
Have come a long way (phrase): to make significant improvements
Example: I’ve come a long way with my guitar skills.
Consistent (adjective): something done in the same way over time
Example: He is consistent with his English learning.
World stage (noun): ability level among the entire world in a particular activity
Example: On the world stage, he is one of the best performers.
Priority (noun): something more important than something else
Example: Becoming fluent in English is one of my biggest priorities.
Foreign exchange program (noun): a program to study academics in a different country
Example: I spent a semester in Spain through a foreign exchange program.
Suburb (noun): a town or residential area outside of a city
Example: I lived in the suburbs of Kansas City.
Put yourself out there (phrasal verb): involve oneself, make an effort
Example: You need to put yourself out there if you want to meet new people.
Make the effort (phrase): to try to do something
Example: It’s important to make the effort to improve your language level.
Hang out (phrasal verb): to spend time
Example: I like to hang out with friends on the weekend.
Get to (phrasal verb): to reach something, usually an understanding
Example: It took me a while to get to where I am, but now I speak English comfortably.
Push oneself (phrasal verb): to motivate oneself to achieve something
Example: You have to push yourself if you want to get better.
Flexibility (noun): the ability or willingness to change
Example: Flexibility is very important in order to correct mistakes.
Be used to (phrasal verb): to be accustomed to something
Example: I am used to riding my bike to work every day.
Out loud (adverb): not silently, saying something with sound that is loud enough to be heard by others
Example: Reading out loud is a great way to practice pronunciation.
Make sure (phrase): to be certain about something
Example: I want to make sure you understand what I am saying.
Nail it (phrasal verb): do something very well
Example: I have a big exam tomorrow and I want to nail it.
Dedicated (adjective): committed, loyal to something
Example: I’m dedicated to doing the best work I can.
Wrap up (phrasal verb): to finish
Example: Let’s wrap up our class with a game.
Tip (noun): advice
Example: My teacher has some great tips for learning vocabulary.
Struggling (verb): to have difficulty with something
Example: She is struggling with her math homework and could use some help.
Abroad (adjective): in a foreign country
Example: She wants to live abroad in Italy.