Posted by: puebloman | February 4, 2009

Spanish steps

Like many English people, I find it very hard to learn languages, and Judy and I are about to go back to school to have another go with our Spanish. It isn’t that we can’t speak any – it’s more that you need so little language to get by in an everyday way, that once you have mastered restaurant Spanish, grocer shop Spanish and then your specialisms – in my case builders, cleaners and fruit farmers Spanish, you can more or less get by with people, and your gross inadequacies don’t come to light until you meet a Spaniard you really want to converse with, or worse, one you want to do business with,where a mistake or misunderstanding could cost you.

Before we came out to Spain we did intensive courses at the Cervantes centre just off Sloane Square in London. They are superb, but completely unforgiving and conducted from the very start entirely in Spanish. We would turn up at the centre after a long day flogging a dead horse at work, and finish the evening in tears having come more or less bottom and second to bottom of the class and feeling like a couple of worn out old codgers. The classes largely consisted of thirty something middle managers  with a variety of ambitions to incorporate the Spanish language into the violently upward trajectory of their career path. Their Spanish teachers were of the same ilk.

Still we did learn a lot. In fact I have a nasty feeling that I have gone backwards during the three years that we’ve lived here. Its partly the work environment – Jude and I now live and work together entirely in English, usually with the plummy tones of BBC radio 4 in the background for 16 hours a day. We do of course have everyday contact with the village people, but our predictable exchanges about the weather, the miseries of work and the incompetence of the mayor are easily learned, and speaking as a learning activity in Andalucia is like an immigrant to Britain deciding to go to a village near Newcastle to learn English. In fact the villagers say “don’t learn Spanish from us! No-one else will understand you!

Well, we are going to study at a school called BEM in Velez-Malaga. We did  a test to see what class we should start with and the one we are joining is doing the subjunctive. It seems this tense is used where the outcome of an intention, a plan, an expectation or desire is uncertain. Apparently this uncertainty, and therefore this tense  is much more common in the Spanish than in the English language for reasons we can all understand. Judy and I are excited by the new course and keen to start, but we know that it’s a case of “use it or lose it”. If we really want to develop our Spanish we will have to start talking in a more committed and demanding way to our Spanish friends.


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