You can now read my poetry in Spanish in this collection.
Ahora, puedes leer mi poema ‘Barras para monos’ en Espanol aqui
I have just finished stage one of packing for going back to the UK. I still have over a month, but having accumulated more than I came with, I felt the urge to check I’d be able to fit it all. I had to purchase an extra suitcase, but I had a sudden panic that it wasn’t enough.
I bought the suitcase for just €9 from an app called Wallapop. The service enables people to sell second hand goods to local people. I also used this app to buy my dress for the feria. I went to one woman’s home her husband was also there, their apartment was immaculate, like a showroom, and I went into a bedroom to try the dress on. That one didn’t fit, so I found another I liked. The owner of the first spoke very fast Spanish, so it was difficult, but the second woman I visited spoke English.
The dress was beautiful again, and though it didn’t fit, it seemed possible simply to get it taken out a bit so that the zip could do up. I agreed to the price of €80 if the woman could come with me to get it adjusted. It was only €10 and did the job, and I just had to pick it up on my own. You can find out more about the feria in my article for The Norwich Radical.
As things are coming to an end here, I also have to start cancelling things. I’ve been writing messages to my agency to arrange a date for the key and deposit exchange, which I’ve been doing in Spanish. At one point she left a voice note instead and I painstakingly tried to write the message down in Spanish. I got the gist, but it was important, so I asked for the written version and understood the same. I started the cancellations by ending my gym membership. I attempted to speak in Spanish, but was saved somewhat by a woman who could speak English. I’d wanted to go to one last zumba class, but they wouldn’t let me.
One thing that can be annoying here is that they are so rule-orientated. I guess there aren’t perhaps as many rules as other places, but the ones they do have are enforced in such as way that can seem unreasonable. Whilst the gym was happy for me to pay for the time before the first payment, yet couldn’t allow me a few days when the payment leaves my account on that same date. I was frustrated also at my recent relaxing trip to a public outdoor swimming pool and they lifeguards were adamant for me to take my glasses off in case they broke. I tried to explain in Spanish that I needed them to see, that they were prescription. So, I had to swim in blurry surroundings. Still, can’t complain too much. I will be returning as much as possible to spend days reading and swimming. They even have a cafe there, so on weekends I could go from 10am-9pm!
I’m hoping to go back to Spanish classes, and definitely want to continue learning when I’m in the UK. My friend Laura also came to visit for a second time (she’s lived in Barcelona for two year before), and we were approached by two Spanish men who tried to encourage us to speak Spanish, so we had a bit of practise, but inevitably ended up speaking more English than Spanish. For those thinking about going to Spain to improve their Spanish, I would say to study beforehand. I feel that if I had studied the amount I have done now then I would feel more confident to practise speaking more. Still, it can be difficult to meet people who aren’t other English teachers.
I’ve got my eye on a language exchange in London, and I may even land a job at an academy that has Spanish there too.
So, a friend of mine asked how the Spanish was going today and so I thought about writing this. Here’s your answer, Alys!
I’ve had to be flexible recently as it’s been Semana Santa. It also means I’m having to try to get back into those habits that I’ve now broken, including both physical and mental exercise routines! Instead of using my apps, I’ve done a lot of text-book studying and I’ve got through a lot, which feels like progress. That said, I will have lots of revise too – learning anything is a lot about repetition, which is at times isn’t as fun as learning something new and understanding it.
I did my first solo trip outside of the UK. to Madrid. I’d been away semi-solo before, and in reality this trip ended up being quite similar. I was in a female dorm in a “party hostel” which was had a great group of girls staying in it and so I had a couple of people to hang out with a lot of the time. Going away made me think how easy it can be to make a home somewhere, for something new to become a comfort zone. It was as if I had forgotten that I had actually come to live in Spain without knowing anyone. Córdoba has become another comfort zone of which to push myself out. And then that hostel room became a comfort zone of sorts.
That said, I did take myself off one night, when my hunger didn’t match up with that of others. I wanted something cheap. I loved Madrid, and with each day I imagined more what it would be like to live there, but it was hard to find good, cheap food. I spoke in Spanish at one place nearby that was shown as cheap on Trip Advisor, but there was no tapas. I spoke to them in Spanish and the cheapest they could offer was a half portion of eggplant at 6 Euros. I apologised, explaining that it was too expensive for me, and left. All in Spanish. Score. I ended up getting Chinese food for the same price including a bunch of noodles and spring rolls and expanding my variety of vocabulary!
In Malaga, with two friends from home, I tried to practise when I knew what to say. I was impressed by one friend who didn’t even study Spanish, but also a little jealous: how could she know all this vocabulary that’s taken me all this time to grasp?! But she also has some knowledge and interest in other languages, such as Greek, Italian and German. They say it’s easier to pick up languages when you know some of others. Then again, both friends were impressed when I was able to tell the waiter at our evening meal that the sangria was good, but the food was not, and managed to get us four tapas taken off the bill.
Initially, I started this journey wanting to become fluent within 10 months. I’ve always been one for setting unrealistic expectations… It stressed me out and tired me out. It was just too much. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry as part of the “40 Sonnets” group… although this year aiming to write one Terza Rima a day. I just finished catching up yesterday and spent all morning writing my diary. I also want to get back into my short stories. And I like to watch Friends with my lunch. So, occasionally I might watch Spanish TV, listen to Spanish music, and speak in Spanish. But I need these other parts of my life in order to feel balanced.
What I am happy about is that I am working hard, enjoying studying, and not feeling worried that I’ll be back at my parents’ house in three months. It’s a starting point and as long as I am consistent and make time to study in some way each day, then I can only go forward. I feel really inspired by students who have studied for 3-4 years at home and have a good level of fluency in English, including grammatical concepts. It makes me think it’s possible for me too, that just because I’ve haven’t yet learnt Spanish from a couple of years at school, it doesn’t make me “bad at languages”. And it keeps me going to imagine a time where I can travel back to Spain, and go to other Spanish-speaking countries and communicate, that maybe it could even expand my ability to understand and be understood in terms of poetry and literature too.
That reminds me, I really must pick up those graded reading books again…
I last updated this series around two months ago. The major change that has happened that makes learning a another language so much more important is ‘Brexit’.
Theresa May has signed papers that mean this is actually happening. The “United” Kingdom is leaving the EU. Whilst part of my anger at this is about the freedom of my own movement, and the injustice at having to buy a new blue passport (not to mention the economic impact), what I am really lamenting is my home changing. In some ways, the bubble has simply burst, but a lot of London people like myself like to celebrate the diversity of the capital and parts across the country. Perhaps with rose-tinted glasses, my childhood is remembered as a melting pot of cultures, my own Hispanic roots included. The older I grew, the further afield I went, the more divided communities seemed to me, and fearmongers appeared to up the ante. And now this. Although London voters as a whole wanted to remain in the EU, the rhetoric of the Leave campaign has given free reign to those committing racist and xenophobic attacks all over.
I had a student ask me if I thought that now English wouldn’t be as necessary to learn now. The computer engineer student is interested in working abroad in the future, but he wants to remain in a European country, possibly to to still be close to his family. The city where I am living has so many language schools full of students learning the English language, but after all these years studying, they’re having their future tampered with by, frankly, ignorant people. Ignorant, because it was revealed how many people regretted their vote and didn’t realise what it would happen, or even that it would happen at all. And so, in continuing with my line of work teaching English, the least I can do is keep up with my struggle to improve my Spanish.
So, I’ve been trying to speak more, confusing the word ‘make-up’ (maquillaje) with ‘butter’ (mantequilla) and feeling awkward in various situations. I’m now ahead on my lesson plans, so I’m spending more time with my head in books, on apps etc. I’ve also been able to speak to more locals and actually practise speaking Spanish with them, resulting in coming home at 2am on a work night – from an Irish bar, of all places (it’s okay, I have Thursday mornings off). I enjoyed it so much, my English workmate was like ‘Why are you speaking in Spanish to me?’ when I tried to keep it up.
I’m also hunting for a traje de gitana/flamenca. This has meant looking at Wallapop, my new favourite app, where you can search for second hand things that are nearby. So, today I walked for half an hour to meet a woman to try on her dress. She had a perfect home, and my ideal dress – red and white varied polka dots, long and traditional, yet modern. As always, when I tried to say how bad my Spanish was, she didn’t seem to understand and still spoke fast and expected me somehow to understand. Sadly, the dress wouldn’t go over my shoulders as the arms were too tight for me. ‘Es muy bonita, pero es demasiado poco en los hombros y los ambroz’ I think I said… I should have said ‘pequeño’ (small) instead of ‘poco’ (little) and ‘brazos’ (arms) instead of whatever the F that word was at the end.
Earlier on in March I also took part in Grito de Mujer. An incredibly nerve-wracking situation, I was more concerned with not knowing what was going on than reading my poems. Other than missing out on the first few takes of a group photograph, and some of my translations getting lost, it was all fine. Someone did have to translate a bit when I wasn’t sure what the host was saying to me, but at this event, and another, I tried to absorb the Spanish around me. The photo was also in the newspaper, which is pretty cool! You can find out more about the night here.
Lastly, I’ve also started to do the speaking exercises in my textbook by recording myself. I figured it’s better than skipping exercises, and maybe I’ll get to see some progress! It’s super embarrassing to share, so I’m still working out whether I will share more or not, but my first post inspired someone to take up a language, so that seems a good enough reason to keep it up!
P.S. Give Gibraltar back.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
It’s been around a month since I last posted, and nearly two since I’ve been in Spain. Has my Spanish improved? Well, if you were to believe the concierge of my building, or my housing agent, the answer would be yes.
Don’t believe them.
The concierge said my Spanish was better after I asked him ‘Que tal?’ (How are you?) and my housing agent said so after I said ‘Vale. Perfecto. Gracias’. (Okay. Perfect. Thank you). I even had to Google Translate her response. This is pretty basic stuff.
It is also things I already knew. And as much as I do know more new words, stringing a sentence together in real life conversations. I appreciate their enthusiasm, and it’s amazing how much it encourages me to attempt to speak more to them. Despite not knowing all the words to form a sentence. But that’s how you learn, right?
Being both a student and a teacher has really made me see how people in my class must feel when they don’t have the language. And even just responding with a smile on your face to students is so important. It’s not their fault when they lack some of the language.
Every lesson I feel like crying. It is so frustrating when I don’t know the words to speak, or if I’m not given the time to think about my answer. My lessons are too difficult and fast-paced and I am struggling, but they are also a perk of the job, so I don’t feel like I can say to slow down when other students are able to keep afloat.
At times I feel like I’m drowning, especially recently when I missed some lessons. But I keep going, and try to hold back my frustrated tears. I’m planning to dedicate a chunk of my weekend to studying.
I have also been regularly using apps to help. The best ones I have been using are Duolingo (obviously) and Spanish Verbs (Brainscape), which using a technique where you rate the confidence of each flashcard. It makes learning verbs fun, because you feel like you are gradually absorbing the words.
It is hard to find the time, but it is possible when you make it a priority. Obviously, other things can take over – work, friends coming to visit, and also wanting to lead a creatively fulfilling life. But as long as it is at the forefront of my mind, if I keep going, I will improve.
Now, I just need to find out about that Friday intercambio…