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Time to move to Spain

Medically retired at short notice our plans to move to Spain are brought forward by a few years. With little time to spare, this is our story.

Learning spanish
24 November 2016 @ 23:58

One of the most important things on our "to do list" when we first came to live in Spain was to learn Spanish. We had heard many stories of thousands of British people living in Spain and making no attempt whatsoever to speak the local language. 

It was a conversation I struck up with an English man in a bar about six months ago that struck me. We had a conversation over a football match during which he told me there was  not need whatsoever to speak Spanish whilst in Spain, "because everyone speaks English". I know that this is not true, however I also know that you can get away with it should you wish to. I would like to add at this point that he also said, without a hint of irony that he came to live in Spain because there were "too many immigrants" and "nobody speaks English anymore in Britain". 

I am well aware that there are also many thousands of British people learning and speaking Spanish over here. In the relatively short time I've been here I would strongly argue that you cannot possibly appreciate living in Spain unless you at least try to speak the language. Of course there are also thousands of British people living in Spain who also speak Spanish and it was their example we wished to follow. 

This is my personal experience of trying to get to grips with a new language. I've never studied a language before so I'm entering pretty much uncharted territory for me. I am aware that the more you put in, the more you get out and that my way is perhaps not the best way of tackling Spanish, however it's my experience and it's shared as much to show people what not to do as much as what to do. 

Before we came here we downloaded a course and every evening we sat for half an hour to learn. On our planning visit before we came for real, we tried some of our new phrases in restaurants and bars and felt quite good about ourselves. Our plan was whenever we could, we would use Spanish even if the people we spoke to spoke English. So far so good! 

We carried on the course after our arrival here and added to 'Duolingo' app to our studies. These however were evidently not enough. We became very frustrated and seemed to be treading water. Our motivation dropped and before long our studies had all but stopped.  For those who have not tried Duolingo. It's a very basic language package that tests you on very basic language skills. Phrases, food & drink, animals, household items etc. 

We looked locally for a Spanish teacher in order to take regular lessons. The choice seemed to vary between one to one tuition to intense courses, neither of which suited us (or were prohibitively expensive) Eventually we replied to an advert from a Spanish man named Gabriel. He would teach both of us together and also incorporate another woman who also wanted to learn. It was an odd set up, as we were asked to attend the lessons in the apartment of one of his tenants. This was apparently the other person who wanted to learn Spanish. We met Gabriel who was a lovely elderly gentleman with a fetching trilby hat, who showed us into the apartment where we shared a table and read what appeared to be a Spanish comic for an hour. He would teach us words, really valuable ones like farmyard animals then go off at a tangent in Spanish, of which we couldn't understand a word. When we got one wrong, he would shout really loud and correct us equally loudly. Sue and I would exchange glances, revealing facial expressions varying between shock and trying not to laugh. We left the apartment vowing to give the lessons a chance before we judged them. 

Week two, and we got no answer at the apartment until Gabriel arrived. This time the apartment was empty but after rifling through a bunch of keys for ten minutes, he eventually found a key that fitted. We entered the apartment and got to work. The same type of lesson ensued and at the end, we paid him and attempted to leave... unfortunately, the key into the apartment was not the key to get us out of the apartment (I'm not quite sure how that worked, but that's what happened). Not to worry, Gabriel had the tenants number but unfortunately there was no answer. The tenant was a chef and the worst case scenario was that he would not be back until his restaurant closed (what time do Indian restaurants close?) As it was 9pm it was looking like we would have a long wait. As luck would have it, they arrived shortly afterwards and panic was over. We decided that these lessons dit not suit us and would look for an alternative teacher. 

I was in the local Dialprix and got speaking to the butcher who had come to Spain from London many years ago. We got chatting over our mutual love of football and the conversation turned to living in Spain. He spoke fluent Spanish and knew a teacher I could use. He passed on my phone number and a few days later, Kate phoned me and I commenced the lessons the following week. We follow a tried and trusted course and I attend one hours lesson per week. I know that is not enough so the plan is to study and use the language every day. That is harder than it may seem. Unless you have Spanish friends or have no other choice than to speak Spanish then most people fall into speaking English as soon as they detect your accent. There are many English people in the urbanisation we live on although it is still a minority but deferring to English happens a lot. It's therefore up to us to instigate our own rules. We try to speak Spanish wherever we can, and once you tell people you are trying to learn they seem genuinely pleased and try and help all they can. I try to start conversations with people who are serving me depending on the size of the queue. Last week I ordered my Christmas turkey and it was a struggle, however, typically an English speaking member of staff came over to help me when she saw my struggle. The local bar owner has told me on finding out I was learning, that he will no longer speak to me in any English. None of his staff speak English anyway so it's a good excuse for me to go to his bar. I supplement my study by using YouTube and I still use Duolingo as they now have what they call 'bots' who are cartoon characters of people who will have a conversation with you. I also watch some TV programmes and short films and have flash cards. I find that if I don't use words I lose them quite quickly and have to re learn them. 

It's when you need to contact the electric or water supplies, apply to go on the padron, try and access health care or anything official that you really need to speak Spanish. Again, there are ways to get by but I don't think that's integrating as I think I should be. It's easier to learn if you place yourself in a position where you have no choice but to learn. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to learn and it's very slow going at the moment, I long to understand and have conversations with non English speaking people so I am carrying on. There will be no giving up, but I believe it's worth it. 

Like 7


wigmore said:
26 November 2016 @ 08:31

buy some spanish CD's, download the words to a song and it will help to string along sentences.
good for you in persevering.

grapow said:
26 November 2016 @ 08:46

Repeating the comments above, very well done and long live your persistence! We live in Dénia where the Brit population is quite small and thus the need to speak Spanish is greater (not helped by the fact Valenciano is spoken routinely here and that is definitely a bridge too far in the learning stakes!)
I too have tried one to one tuition, undoubtedly the best but pricey. As a compromise I have subscribed for a few years to an online service named Synergy Spanish. Priced around 20€ per month I have found it very helpful and I find myself now able to communicate well.

dunworkin said:
26 November 2016 @ 09:19

Well done for trying. I chose a non-english-speaking part of Spain to live so that I would be forced to learn the language. Beofre I came I took six lessons over the internet, which was just enough to find a flat to rent. I ´read the papers and watched a lot of TV, becoming addicted to a soap (Cuentame Como Paso) in the process. I also bought a grammar book and of course a dictionary. I joined the local yoga group and started making friends, many of whom wished to exchange language practise with me. Now, two years later, I can cope with most things by communicating in imperfect spanish and I recently began a course at a college, which is for beginners, but I have a few gaps to fill. I haven´t just learned the language, I have also experienced a fascinating new world. I often meet people who at first glance assume with a weary air that I don´t speak the language, but when they hear my sad attempts, no matter how pitiful, they are always, as you have also found, friendly and helpful. I would encourage everyone to make the effort to learn the language and take part in this amazing life that you are living in the midst of.

anthomo16 said:
26 November 2016 @ 09:30

Please keep at it I too studied synergy Spanish for a year then went to a local school twice a week here in Spain for another year .I started at the basic level and then due to ill health had to give up, but I really wish I had kept it up . I still try to speak Spanish wherever I go though and frequently get my masculine and feminine endings wrong but heyho I give the local Spanish a good laugh. Please, please keep on and ket us know how you are doing. Have you tried a pen friend it is a God way to practice your Spanish whilst helping the spanish person learn English.

TravelswithCharlie said:
26 November 2016 @ 09:59

Go to FutureLearn, free online courses, languages and others, I am doing Spanish and Italian right now.


senorita said:
26 November 2016 @ 10:23

Very brave of u 2 learn 2 languages at the same time. How do u remember which word is which language. I learnt some Welsh when I first moved 2 Wales and often the Welsh word comes into my brain before the Spanish word. I know Un poco Espanol.

vickya said:
26 November 2016 @ 11:16

We were in Almeria, Vera, for two years from 2007 and attended a local, free class to teach English to Foreigners. It was twice a week i think. The UK runs similar ones to teach English. I was actually a teacher of those and also we went to a Spanish class in the Uk for a term before going over. I speak two other languages fluently, German and French, so with also teaching I have the skills to learn a language. My problem is I was in my 60s and memory for learning new words is not good by that age. Younger people find that easier usually. I found as a teacher and organiser of classes I noticed what was good or bad about the teaching, in the UK and Spain :) but did enjoy the classes and meeting the other students, of various nationalities. The school, local authority run, like in the UK, also taught natives literacy and numeracy and there was an annual outing in a coach, on the occasion I went it was to a salt museum and very enjoyable. They did the full Spanish lunch half way where we were able to chat and socialise iwth the native members of the party too.

cary said:
26 November 2016 @ 11:27

Hi I found in the area I bought a holiday home, way up in a small mountain village that no one speaks English, unless on the odd occasion you meet and English tourist or holiday home owner like myself. Even in the local town of Ronda I have had to use Spanish. I look forward to when I retire and stay longer than just my annual leave days there.
Aparently the local authority in Ronda does free classes twice a week there. I attended a few years ago and it was very good, however on one weeks leave each time I went I felt it wasn't fair to go., so hoping they will still be doing it in a couple of years time!

Ten66 said:
26 November 2016 @ 12:52

We should try to speak Spanish, I took lessons, I try to use it wherever I go. It can be quite hard.
Where I live, Alicante, the" no need to speak it" sort of works.
Almost anyone who wants your money, cafe, restaurant, etc, will speak English, which is nice when my Spanish runs out.
People who have to have your money, Town Hall, tax, Traffic, they are so much less likely to speak English. Mind you when I have faltered often they have just about enough to get me by.
We hated the foreigners who did not integrate, as it hinted above, so we should make the effort; I have found I can do so much more with my little Spanish I am so glad I try.

alant said:
27 November 2016 @ 07:49

One big problem with speaking Spanish is that everyone wants to speak English, try speaking Spanish to Telefonica and as soon as they detect a foreign accent they will put you through to “an English speaking operative”, I say “an English speaking operative,” but normaly their English is not as good as my Spanish and when I insist on speaking Spanish they hang up on me.

Charlietwice said:
28 November 2016 @ 10:24

Thank you for your comments. I will persevere even though my confidence is often knocked. I will take on board your tips and look into them. I've learnt not to take myself too seriously as locals can often laugh at my attempts at Spanish, but it's always good natured.

foresternige said:
11 January 2017 @ 19:10

Another good post - and this time with a million comments! nice one.

I am in very different scenario as 1) we see a lot of my wifes spanish family many of who speak virtually no english 2) there are essentially no english around here at all 3) the staff in shops and bars speak essentially no english beyond 'hello' etc. 4) a lot of people also speak Gallego dialect which changes proncioniation at least, but also quite different words for some things. Bit like Geordi or something.

My wife is fluent, and so deals with anything complex or official like in hospitals/government/utlities or complex discussion about other things.
but I've found a few things helping me : firstly though that I have been mostly coming out just for weekends so just engaging with bakers, bar staff and restauranters : so the ability to practice has been really limited.

Some things I found helped were: the more awkward situation where you have to figure out a way round based on your crappish spanish - so for example at a garden center needing chicken wire and fencing hooks. or buying a bouquet of flowers. The vocab is a bit different but you can get by, and the sentences are relatively simple. plus you can get a bit of small talk more than in a bar which is usually the same kind of phrases and context.

We have some spanish friends that speak a little english, so we get lots of opportnitiy to swap words/translations and switch in a conversation depending on who is struggling to understand more.
So "pen-pal" aka whats'app / facebook messenger contact might be good for others too as I'm liking that with them.

CRUCIALLY i need to improve as I want to find work here in 2017 or beyond. so wish me luck as I try some teachers/courses too.

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