The finer points of learning a language, or for that matter, the general points, are never brought home quite so succinctly as when you don’t speak the lingo. I’m recognising certain aspects of Lost in Translation.
I’ve been struck by a number of contradictions here. I’ve always pictured Europe as being particularly enlightened when it comes to matters of health and the environment (in particular), yet it seems every Spaniard over the age of fifteen smokes; and by smoke, I mean a pack a day or more. I think there have been times when reports of fires in Spain have been incorrect—it was just half the country were on their pausa (smoko).
Cigarettes here are cheap and widely available, and big tobacco has such an iron grip here (or perhaps Spaniards are just so indifferent), that a recent effort to start banning smoking in restaurants and cafes received such a lukewarm response, that it was decided to leave it to the establishments to make the decision, because there was no chance of enforcement. Subsequently, pretty much every bar, cafe and restaurant either allows smoking throughout the establishment, or they permit it in specially isolated areas. Perhaps attitudes will change when medical costs for cancer treatment start to go through the roof.
Likewise, Spaniards seem blasé about tossing litter where they stand. To some degree, I guess this is because in the major cities, people are employed to collect rubbish from the streets and keep them tidy, so the results of littering never become fully apparent. At the change of their shift, you often see these workers in roving gangs, pushing along their cart with brooms, rakes and refuse on board. As such, the places where these garbage collectors are not employed to clean up, are subsequently doused with rubbish, left behind by Spaniards too indifferent to carry their mess to the nearest rubbish bin.< Quite interesting to see what the absence (or presence) of powerful lobby groups can do to public behaviour and attitudes. I started Spanish classes six weeks ago, partly for my own benefit and partly at the behest of a prospective employer where no one except the creative director speaks English. After some shopping around, I decided to go with one of the larger schools, Enforex. The standard of their teaching has been generally quite good. Though I’ve since discovered a little secret to studying Spanish with them: make sure you’re not enrolled for classes in a week where there’s a public holiday, because you don’t get credited the classes you’ll lose on that day, nor do you get refunded the money. That small rip-off aside, I can highly recommend them. Just make sure you do some research on when the public holidays fall, and plan some travel around those weeks.
I had an exam last week, for the first module (A1—Básico). The written component I got a mark of 70%, which isn’t too bad I guess, but I made some stupid errors that denied be cracking the 80% barrier, something I’d have been far happier with. I’ve learned that to date at least, the hardest part of learning Spanish, is learning to listen to it. Spaniards speak so fast that all their words simply bunch into each other, and I have no hope of really understanding anything they say. I’m constantly saying “hable más despacio, por favor” (“speak more slowly, please”), or asking people to repeat themselves.
Last week, as I was going to classes, I heard a number of elderly, plump Spanish women warbling loudly at each other at a metro station, and it reminded me more of a bunch of hens clucking after having all simultaneously laid large eggs, than of people talking. The language is so much more complicated than English that in hearing it, I really struggle to latch on to any words I recognise. I often find myself wondering if I’m learning the same variant of Spanish in class as what people are speaking on the street, because there’s no similarity I can identify.
In part, I guess it’s because my vocabulary is quite limited, together with my understanding of the grammar, verbs, articles, pronouns, and for that matter, a vast quantity of the rest of the language. If I’m able to stay here, I think my long term goal of learning to hear and speak Spanish reasonably fluently will be achieved, but for now, I’m still getting my ear in.