Speaking and writing, not just nodding
November 13, 2007, 2:06 pm
Filed under: education, europe, language, spain, travel

After a couple of weeks my conversational Spanish was decent. My grammar, on the other hand, was nonexistent. Though I strongly believe immersion is the best way to learn to speak a language, sitting in a classroom and learning the rules should follow, so you can write as well.

So while Ian ducked over to South America for a conference, I went to Seville to give my Spanish some structure. I couldn’t really be bothered doing research on what school would suit me best (there are lots to choose from in Seville), so when a woman from CLIC posted a comment on this blog I decided her school would do nicely. I paid for a week’s intensive Spanish, staying with a host family. My mind harked back to sharing a room in a tiny apartment on the umpteenth floor in a northern Italian metropolis, then being cast out into Italian suburbia where public transport was long and sporadic, when I went on exchange as a teenager.

I found myself again in a tiny apartment (this is Europe, after all), but with my own room, with not so much a family as a host grandmother, a sprightly 80 year old woman who made great paella and scolded me for walking around in bare feet when I had a sore throat, like all respectable old-fashioned Spanish mothers would. I had two host sisters, one American and one Japanese, who were studying Spanish as well. This meant I got to my school easily on the first day, accompanied. It also meant I got lost every time I tried to get there myself afterwards, as if not navigating myself the first time rendered me incapable of memorising my route thereafter, like some lobotomised rat.

When I did finally make it to school in the morning I was in a class with half a dozen other students. I was pleased that my conversational Spanish efforts meant I started at the level above beginner (elementary, dear Watson), but this means that, like in French, I will probably never be much good at counting to one hundred or reading the alphabet.

Then after a quick lunch (which is not at all Spanish) I had another class in the afternoon, with two other students and a hilarious teacher called Adrian who was newly married, as we all knew because he proceeded every one of his corny Spanish-guy-jokes with ‘but don’t tell my wife’.

The school had a packed cultural programme that ensured I didn’t pine for Ian the evenings, including a flamenco show featuring both a female and male dancer, and a guided tour of the Gibralta tower

At the end of the week we were all quite disconcerted to discover we had to do an exam. A 60 year old guy studying on vacation with his wife said “this is the first test I’ve done since I was at university 40 years ago”. Despite the shock I kept my act together and managed to ace my first Spanish exam! Mostly A’s, with a B for writing, because as with my French tests, I accidentally wrote 15% in Italian (first second languages die hard).

But I passed with flying colours! I can now say with some authority that I speak (elementary) Spanish!


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