Each week on the Let’s Talk series, I’ll be featuring a language learner who will share their heroic process of mastering a foreign tongue. Next up, Ellie talks Spanish.
Botellón. /bo.te.ˈʎon/. n. Language: Spanish. Meaning: Cheap, outdoor drinking in parks or on beaches. Blurry nights of red wine mixed with diet coke. The reason for rolling in at 7am the next day.
I’m Ellie, a 24 year old languages graduate who’s spent the last few years alternating between living in France, Spain and my native England. I started learning Spanish pretty late, taking it up in my first year of university after having learnt French for 7 years. I did it on a whim after my first day of classes and have never looked back! Since then, I have been lucky enough to live in four of the most beautiful parts of Spain and also started the travel blog www.untranslatedadventures.com – if you love Spain as much as I do, come check it out sometime!
Numbers for Words
1. How many years have you studied it? 6 years: 3 in formal education and 3 living abroad and through friends and film.
2. How would you describe your fluency? 1–10 (0, a houseplant speaks this language better than me. 5, I’m just barely fluent; 11, I could write the dictionary.) 8/9 – There’s rarely a time when I can’t follow the conversation and contribute properly in any context but I often make mistakes when I’m talking for long periods. I have been mistaken for a nativa a couple of times though (the proudest moments of my life!)
3. Rate difficulty in learning this language, on a scale of 1-5 (1 is easiest, 5 is hardest), for each of the following categories:
a. Pragmatics/communicational competence. (Appropriate use of language in context.) 2 – Though nouns are gender specific, the male and female articles are clear sounds “el / la” which make it relatively easy to remember. In Spain, the formal register is almost never used (with the exception of when you’re speaking to people over the age of 65 or perhaps, occasionally, your boss!) although in South America it is much more common, so this can cause issues. Swearing is a huge part of the vocabulary in Spain, it peppers almost all conversations amongst young people so you should be open to embracing it!
b. Grammar 3- Spanish has a reputation for being easy…to a certain point. You can make quick progress in Spanish and make yourself understood fairly easily, but in order to completely master the language, you need to tackle the dreaded subjunctive…eeek! The reason that it’s so difficult is that though we have the structure in English (think of the Beyoncé song If I Were a Boy) we don’t use it nearly as much. Once you’ve started learning the principles of the subjunctive, you’ll have a crisis of confidence over your Spanish but push through and you’ll get it!
c. Pronunciation 1- Spanish pronunciation is fairly easy, with only the rolled “R” sound on double ‘r’ spellings and words beginning with ‘r’ causing lots of people trouble. It is important to get it right though, think of the difference between “pero” [‘but’ – no rolled “r”] and “perro” [‘dog’ – rolled “r”].
d. Vocabulary 3 – Spanish has lots of verbs in the place of a verb + adverb or phrasal verb combo in English i.e. what feels like 20 verbs for different types of walking! However, it is much easier to learn all these verbs than teaching Spanish people English phrasal verbs, trust me!
e. Spelling 1 – Something that makes Spanish very easy to learn is that it’s almost totally phonetic! The only small change is that “V” is pronounced as “B” i.e. Valencia is pronounced “Balencia”.
Language Meets Culture
1. Reinforce for me in ONE way or ONE example, from your own experience, the idea that language and culture are inseparable. This is very open-ended, and it’s meant to be ;)
When I was learning Spanish, I learnt all the words for different meal times but it never made sense to me. “Merienda”, their 5 ‘clock snack, confused me because I was so used to having my dinner served at half past 5 every day! It was only when I went on a homestay in Santiago de Compostela and we sat down for dinner every night at half 9 that I started to understand why you might need a snack at 5pm!
2. Did language inspire you to travel? Or did travel inspire/force you to study language?
Learning languages inspired me to live abroad and has opened up so many opportunities for me to do so as well. After my Erasmus [study abroad] year, I was hooked, and moved straight back to Spain after my degree to travel extensively around Europe. It is also an addictive hobby and I would love to learn Italian so I can move to Italy one day, so it definitely works both ways for me!
3. Provide an example of how this language has helped you integrate yourself or become more invested in your travels or your life abroad.
Being fluent in a language is a huge game changer when moving abroad. I finally saw a difference in peoples’ perception of me in my second summer working in Spain at a scuba diving centre. In the first year, when my Spanish was good but not great, I was just another blonde English girl hanging out with all the other English speakers; I didn’t have the confidence to join in with the all the Spanish crew. Coming back in my second year though, I made a deliberate effort to integrate with the full time staff and had an incredible summer speaking Spanish all day every day and made friends for life I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to communicate with.
4. You are this language’s lawyer. Build a case for it. Why should people study this language?
I think I have a fairly easy case here! Apart from being relatively easy to learn and useful for your holidays, it’s also the second most sought after language by employers in the UK! And that’s not even considering all the sunshine, tapas and siestas you get during the learning process…
Some Fun Stuff
1. Favorite word in the language, and why.
“Tío” [Mate/Bro] This is my favourite word because it automatically upgrades your Spanish. Adding tío onto the end of anything you say makes it instantly more authentic! It can also be used as an expression of disbelief i.e. “I overslept for work again today” “Tío!!”.
2. A word that doesn’t translate directly to English, and approximately what it means.
“Ganas”. Ganas roughly translates as the “the will to do something”, “desire” or “looking forward to” i.e.
“Tengo ganas de verte” – I really want to/can’t wait to see you.
“Que ganas tengo” – I can’t wait!
3. A gesture in this language that differs from English.
Instead of opening and closing your palm with your palm facing towards you to denote “come here,” I’ve had elderly women do it the opposite, with their palm facing outwards. I thought they were strangely waving goodbye, so I would walk away, and then they would yell for me to come back. Confusing.
4. Tell us a funny story or mistranslation you made in your language learning process.
A handyman once came over to fix some items in our flat. He asked what needed fixing so I pointed over to the set of drawers in the corner which had come off the rollers, “ahí, los cojones” I said. As soon as I said it, I knew I had just pointed to a set of drawers and said “Over there, the balls” rather than “Over there, the drawers [cAjones]” but there was just no taking it back at that point. We both had to ride the awkward moment.
And in conclusion . . . .
“Chao pescao!” This is the Spanish equivalent of “See ya later, alligator!”