No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #5

Another month in Spain, another review of what I have achieved. At times it doesn’t seem like much. But then there are are moments, where I have had a successful interaction, and it probably seems a bit silly how excited I get by it. I don’t get many interactions, because I don’t put myself out there a lot. But I successfully asked my doorman for another key (for visitors) and a few days later got a key. He is pretty much the only person I speak to in Spanish on a regular basis.

Case in point: I went on a hike with a massive group of mainly Spanish people, and only really spoke to other English teachers. It was a day that was amazing for so many reasons, but it was also painful for other reasons. At the end of the 17/18km we had a cheap paella as our reward. However, we were misinformed about the process, and not being able to access the language meant we had to queue up again, when we were so close to being served (I was hangry). A failed conversation with some Spanish people who couldn’t speak English made me feel embarrassed and reminded me of being in Vietnam, that kind of awkward laughter from everyone, not really knowing what was funny. Why did I find it so hard to speak when put on the spot?

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One of the other teachers I met on the hike also unintentionally hit a nerve. When I asked how their Spanish was, they said they were half-Spanish. Like, obviously that means you can speak the language. It hit a nerve, because, okay, it’s only my grandfather who is Spanish, but my dad is half-Spanish and pretty much everyone on that side of the family has struggled with trying to learn Spanish – my dad, my uncle, my cousins. Wouldn’t it be so easy if the language had just been passed on? I know other people can relate to this frustration, from Latinx people in America, and one guy I heard about whose parents were both Spanish but brought up in the UK ended up not being able to speak it properly.

This is why I strongly believe that languages should be passed on. It seems especially silly for family members not to pass on Spanish, when it’s one of the most spoken languages in the UK. I mean, what were you thinking?!  Both my paternal grandparents can speak Spanish, so it’s a continual frustration. In another life, I could have been bilingual. Instead, I have this strange hole I feel the desire to fill with Spanish. As if I am a fraud, as if my heritage is not in my blood if I cannot speak the language. At times I think my whole reasoning for wanting to learn is silly, but the motivations are something unexplainable to a degree. I must be repeating myself, but it’s especially embarrassing with my name.

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It has been a lot harder to learn than I anticipated, and although I sometimes rush things, there are two things I can think of that I don’t rush: making new friends, and learning languages… All I know is that if I keep going forward and push myself every now and again, then I must be making some progress, however small. And I could spend more time on it, but I also want to do other things, like making friends, and writing, and reading and travelling! Oh, and I do have a job to do too! They tend to take up times.

So, for now, like on the hike, I started, so I will continue…

No Habla Español: English Woman Living in Spain #4

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In my final two weeks I’ve been ill. I struggled through most of it because I wanted to see the Christmas show … which I ended up missing because I was teaching. At work we had a Christmas buffet, where I made up for the lack of alcohol with tortilla and lots of water (I was trying not to drink, but succumbed to two small glasses of red when the water ran out).

I saw a couple of friends on the Saturday, and rested the whole of the Sunday, but the sore throat was still lingering. Sore throats always make me paranoid due to a close-call at university where I was being tested for leukemia, and could have contracted ME. I also had one of the new teachers staying this last weekend in Spain, so it wasn’t the best timing. But they did buy me some lovely coasters as a thank you, meaning I can replace the terrible glass ones I had bought before. Glass + Spanish floor = dangerous.

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Oh yes, as well as the cold, I also discovered some glass in my foot, perhaps a day or two after it went in. When I moved into the apartment, there was a lot of glass that I discovered on random occasions, but I think this particular injury was due to those pesky coasters. Thankfully, I had sorted out my medical card and doctor’s surgery already. However, I needed help from my boss when I had been given the incorrect information for booking appointments on an old leaflet.

I managed to book an appointment with a nurse the next day, and one with a doctor on the Monday. It was confusing, but we used translation apps to understand one another. I got brought from one room to another, where the nurse tried to remove the glass. It still hurt, so they said to come back again if I needed to, but was told I needed a doctor’s appointment to have my throat looked at. I was given a bunch of thick plasters and bandages, as well as an unknow red-orange liquid.

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It had done the job, but the sore throat remained (I also strangely had a nose-bleed, but didn’t think that was relevant). So, I returned on Monday and thankfully was granted an extra day of rest, given a ‘baja’ and a couple of things on prescription. I used the Spanish I had memorised, and even if the doctor did speak English, I was able to speak at snail-pace as she listened patiently and only resorted to translation once, when I was confused about the sick note, thinking I wasn’t getting one, when it was merely that she could only offer one day rather than two because it was red, but there was no sign of, I guess, tonsillitis, or similar.

I told the pharmacy that I could only speak a little Spanish, but before I could say anything, they already took my card and gave me the medication. The cost was hard to understand though, as the ‘seis’ just sounded like ‘ei’, so the cashier told me in English when I appeared confused (though I was paying with a 20, so my confusion was more that she wasn’t just taking the note). One of the main challenges is listening, though I was proud I was able to understand most of what the doctor said.

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Other recent achievements include, being able to understand a group of people who had paid an entrance fee and telling them ‘otra puerta’ (not that they seemed to listen to me, but seconds later I heard them repeat the same thing when they realised). Having spent too much money on Christmas presents, I also once needed to return a box of cereal that was advertised as 80 cents, that came up as 2.99. I managed to tell them in Spanish and got my money back. I always hunt for the discounted boxes, and I mean, that one didn’t even have chocolate in it. Another big thing is that I memorised the basic verbs available on Spanish Verbs, so I am now onto conjugating in the present tense, which shouldn’t take me as long. Here’s hoping I can keep it up over the holidays…

Basically, this is OUR language, yeah?

I’m an Academic Mentor for English at a community secondary school, both my parents are teachers and my Dad has spent many years teaching in Harris Academies. He’s now working at a private school, and despite missing the variety of children who go to state schools, he sees this as a long-term move. Anyway, it was through my Dad that I found out about the idea of Harris banning certain words which are deemed to be slang. Firstly, this is obviously ridiculous. It’s like some weird social experiment. As an Academic Mentor, I understand that speaking correctly will help you write correctly (hello grammar police). So, why would I have a problem with it? Okay, so here’s why it’s ridiculous:

1. The words that are being banned don’t even distinguish between slang and colloquialism.

2. There’s only a small amount of banned words anyway. There’s a lot more where they came from.

3. It supports class division, as poet Anthony Anaxagorou stated in his article, most of this banned lexicon targets working-class kids. I’m trying to rack my brain for some “posh slang” but all I think of is someone from Made in Chelsea saying “awesome”.

4. It stiffles creativity; I remember reading something about how we are all the masters of our own language… I think it was A.A.Milne? Yes, we should be aware of the words we choose, but there is no reason to enforce a ban. I mean, look at the sign. This has to be a joke right?

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I pointed out to my Dad that some teachers would find it hard. This could result in either embarrassment or provoke discussion. Is the teacher saying “you was…” going to be laughed at or laughed with? It depends on how serious this ban is and whether it is actually a light-hearted experiment for everyone at school. Slang has never suited me personally; someone once told me I was too middle-class to say “wicked” which upsets me because I actually like the word. I did cringe over hearing a friend use the word “bare” when we grew apart as friends at school (probably because I just wasn’t cool in any circle!) However, I’m a serial offender for ‘like’, ‘basically’ and ”cause’. I’m also partial to a bit of ‘defos’, ‘obvos’ and ‘ridic’… in an ironic way, obviously… I’m not that posh… Or, okay, yes, I am that posh. I’m the guy in Made in Chelsea saying ‘awesome’ (just kidding – like ‘bare’, ‘awesome’ is another of my pet hate words). I’ve corrected spellings here, because I think that’s the part that really highlights how the policy victimizes the more working-class students.

Anyway, despite my unashamed, self-confessed middle-class status, I am ultimately a lover of language, a poet, a writer, a master of my own words. I teach students to encourage them to love literature and to be as creative as possible when using language. To tell them they can’t use words they own is counter-productive. The only way it could possibly work is if it’s just for, like, a day… that way it’s a bit like that game when you can’t answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a series of questions. But, it’s not like that, is it?

And one more point in my ramble… slang and making up words is all part of being a kid. Sometimes we made up code words and things to communicate. It’s creative and fun and when you’re older, you can look back at all the silly things you said. From the “fruitbrunettes” to the “Lisa Mafia Crew” (I was “Soldier Mafia”) I will treasure those memories despite the time that has passed. If you think that banning words is a good idea… that’s just facety man… (or shabby).