Spanish as she is spoke

Spanish flag
Spanish flag

We’re off to visit daughter Emily in Barcelona soon.  And it’s about time we stopped being so dependant on her to be our mouth-piece when we’re there.  It’s about time we stopped expecting her boyfriend to make all the effort of speaking in a less-than-familiar language.  It’s about time we took a grip, and learned some Spanish.

Yes, I know.  In Barcelona, Catalan is the preferred language.  But if we want to travel more widely in Spain, given that everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish too, Spanish it’s going to be.

I looked for Adult Education classes to help me.  There was nothing for beginners here in Ripon, and I didn’t fancy a 35 mile round trip to Northallerton or Harrogate for a weekly session.  The U3A here in Ripon has a class, but they’ve been going quite a while and are on book two of their chosen text-book.  In any case, there’s not a native speaker in their midst to correct idiom or accent.

So I’ve looked to the internet.  And being a tight-fisted sort, I’ve looked at what’s out there for free.  There’s quite a lot.  The advantage for me has been that the lessons these courses provide come in bite-sized packages, which encourages me to learn little and often.  The big disadvantage is that I don’t really get to speak: and if I do, there’s nobody to correct me.

There’s Duolingo, which takes me through families of words, using simple sentence structures, and testing my ability to understand and to remember.  I’m not likely to forget about that crab that drinks milk, or my brother (haven’t got a brother) who wears yellow trousers.

Then there’s Games for Language.  American David, who has a Spanish dad, is travelling round Spain.  Through ‘virtual’ card games and arcade-type games, I’ve learnt the Spanish I need to understand his travels.

FluentU is good.  From Lesson 1 it uses short video clips from Spanish TV commercials, children’s broadcasts and so forth to teach Spanish…. as she is spoke: that is – fast and furious.  I can tell you all you’ll ever need to know about Maradona eating at MacDonald’s.

And my latest discovery is Memrise: this offers you structured sentences and vocabulary, and makes you repeat them and repeat them till you jolly well get it right.  And then, a few days later, it’ll be checking to see if you’ve forgotten.

You must think I spend my whole life slogging away at Spanish.  I don’t.  It’s 10 minutes here and there.  But it IS every day.  I’ll let you know whether it’s paid dividends when I’m back from Barcelona.

Catalan flag
Catalan flag

Tongue-tied in Catalonia

The waitress gazed at us in bafflement. All she wanted to do was to take our order.  We became more and more frustrated and slightly hysterical at our inability to explain that we’d only given our order (‘café solo e café con leche’ – we could cope with that) about a minute ago to her colleague.  Sadly, he wasn’t in view, so we couldn’t point him out.

We were in Catalonia visiting our daughter for the weekend, and we couldn’t wait for her to join us in the bar.  When she arrived, she smoothly took over, explained the tapas menu to us, and gave our order to el patron.  He complimented her on her Spanish, but then spoilt it by wondering if she were Belgian.

She’s already had an interesting few months as a language assistant in a Catalan primary school.  She’s more likely to hear Catalan, but Spanish is common too, and this is the language she’s keen to learn.  The family she’s currently living with speaks Catalan, Spanish, German and English – even occasionally French – round the dinner table, but she claims this as a positive and helpful experience, probably because they all correct each other.

We found it difficult and frustrating being in Spain with only the most rudimentary language tools.  Any efforts on our part to communicate in Spanish or Catalan were greeted with friendliness and enthusiasm by the locals.  We battled to be understood, they battled to understand, and laughter at each other’s efforts broke down lots of barriers.  Still, we can’t go on like this.  We want to make an effort to learn a little more of the language before we visit Emily next.

How do people who come to live in Spain (or France come to that) cope if they don’t try to master the language?  We know of people who’ve been here ten years or more and can still hardly communicate.  If we found it hard booking a ten-journey train pass or telling the waitress we didn’t need her just then, how much worse would it have been if we’d been trying to contact a plumber, say, or the local town council?

And most of our best times here are spent sharing experiences – whether it’s a walk, an hour at the gym, or simply having a coffee together – with our French friends and neighbours.  Unable at the moment to replicate those free and easy exchanges when we go to Spain makes us feel we’re missing out.  Must Try Harder.