I have been thinking about living in Madrid, about learning the Spanish language and communication skills; how not being able to fully express myself in Spanish is often frustrating, and how I am reacting to having the comfort blanket of my native language taken away from me.
I recently read a blog by latinaish, the post was called ‘hablar o No hablar?’ I could identify with some of the points she raised. I felt inspired to offer a little bit of my own experience in learning a new language, and then trying to practice and use what I have learnt.
The people I have come into contact with in Madrid either speak no English, or have some command of the language. The younger generations have learnt English in school, but even they are quite self-conscious, under confident, shy or under practiced to use the English language. It is one thing to hear it spoken on a television programme or in a class room, and then to use it for real in a situation that isn’t scripted. I feel the same about Spanish; from the moment I begun learning the language I felt I ought to be immediately 100% proficient, and believed that in only a couple of months I would be reading Shakespeare in Spanish and debating politics! I was setting myself up for failure though, over pressuring myself to be word perfect on a two hour a week lesson!
I think I under estimated how important it is to be heard, to be understood and to interact. It is something I took for granted being an English speaker in the UK. It is an important part of our every-day, yet it is something we just do and think little of. I have never been the type of person to remain quiet in social situations, my life and work has always dictated otherwise. Yet, here in Madrid I find myself on the verge of becoming someone I thought I wouldn’t be; afraid to speak out!
I strongly believe the key to language is confidence and practice, without these you fail to even give yourself the right frame of mind to absorb all you are learning. Don’t get me wrong, I have learnt a lot, and when I look back I cannot believe how far I have come. Especially as Spanish is a language I wasn’t affiliated with at all back in the UK, it was alien to me; no music or programmes in Spanish, in school we learnt French and Welsh as second languages, and I didn’t know any Spanish speakers. In a situation where you move countries, and are literally beginning again, there are so many things to adjust to; and the language is one of many, but the most important. I am in Spain therefore I need to speak Spanish! Life is difficult unless you are prepared to at least try to speak, and without confidence you are in trouble.
I feel learning a language should have been easy for me; my Mother’s family are fluent in Welsh, my Grand Mother is proficient in French and my Grand Father speaks Irish Gaelic! Yet, none of these people saw fit to pass along their knowledge! All of what has been learnt stays with them, they have chosen, even when they could have, not to teach others! Even learning that second language in school was difficult, it had a stigma attached. It is ridiculous to recall that 13 and 14 year olds attitude, but it wasn’t deemed cool. So, I scuppered my own learning when I had the chance, even though I was actually in top sets for both languages, and of course English. Yet, I refused to continue with learning a second language when I was given the option to. I wish I could return to that moment in time and say, ‘wake up fool you’ll need those languages one day and regret it’. I try not to regret anything, as the decision was made for a reason by a person I used to be, but I do regret that.
I know have a renewed opportunity to learn a second language, and I feel my mind and brain battle me all the way. Not because I can’t, but because I feel, just like the Spanish might about English; under confident in my abilities. I feel like a fool using a language I have such a small capacity to communicate fully in. I am frustrated; I understand written and even spoken Spanish (some people speak so fast it is difficult, but I will always get the gist of a conversation), yet, I cannot reply adequately or quickly enough! I speak so slowly, my mind translating everything and it often then forgets the initial question!!!! I feel stupid, like a little kid; so used to being eloquent in English I am struggling to prise myself away from my comfort blanket. It’s the feeling of beginning again; having the language ability of not even a 4 year old, it frightens me!
Language is complex, and how we absorb it is a complex process too. Maybe I am on a back-foot; I am not married to a native Spanish man, my friends here speak great English, which they have been learning and practicing since they were 11. I don’t like Spanish TV or music (sorry!), and I have no family members to pass on to me their built up knowledge. Yet, I think I have overcome obstacles as I have needed to, even as a complete beginner, but now my internal doubt is beginning to rear its head, and hamper my progress!
You see it is this confidence in speaking that troubles me. In Madrid I feel ridiculous going out and just striking up a conversation for the sake of it with a stranger, yet, if I could speak the language well enough I would! It is not that I am adverse in challenging myself; I speak whenever I can to whoever I can, I order food, food shop, visit the local markets, go out to have drinks, travel alone, shop for clothes and wander around the city. Basically I do whatever I would do naturally at home in the UK. In fact being in Madrid feels more like home than the UK, so it isn’t as though I feel uncomfortable. I love travelling, meeting new people and having new experiences; yet for all of this I am in a rut of self-conscious under confidence, which is not usual to me. I could literally slap myself for it!
I am so used to speaking to new people, my education and work has always dictated that; working in communities, for local Government and National Government projects, charities, and even as a tutor. Language is and always has been my strong hold though, and that is the problem; without my comfort blanket here in Madrid I feel I have lost my niche, my ability, a fundamental part of me! Who am I without my own language?!
When I do speak though, I am not a complete lost cause, I am usually understood! People have even mistaken me for a Spanish senorita! When out and about I am spoke to, I am asked various questions; when I say I am not Spanish or explain I am currently leaning the language they then look at me as though I am lying, I have to be Spanish! It is as though I am at odds; I seem Spanish, but I am not Spanish, I speak, but then I am too shy, I experience the new, but afraid of what might happen. Learning a language seems full of complex contradictions, it is easy to give advice and say what should be done, but every person reacts differently. I just wish there was magic spell to help me fathom it all out and send me on my way!
What I know I don’t want is to leave Madrid, and again, feel I have scuppered my own learning, feel bad about not just getting on with it like everyone else does! I want to liberate myself from my internal voice of doubt, I want to break free and learn! Yet, actions speak louder than words right?! I think I just need a final push, and one day it’ll click and make sense. Or, maybe I’ll wake up like Brendon Fraser in ‘Bedazzled’, and just be able to speak Spanish because of a magic spell! One can at least live in hope!
See below link for ‘Bedazzled’ Brendan Fraser and his miraculous ability to speak fluent Spanish! Extremely funny clip for all those frustrated in learning a new language!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vd2RR4bO_9g&feature=related (link courtesy of memoring)
Please leave me your comments with your thoughts, experiences and any advice! Thanks for reading!
Learning; not just relegated to the classroom.
Above image from: simonox found on http://letspracticepresenttenses.blogspot.com.es
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