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Spanish Language Panic

By Mr Grumpy - Thu 22th Sep 2011

On a level playing field and with a decent wind behind me, I would not class myself as the sort of guy that panics very often, or in too many challenging circumstances or situations.

In fact, moments of panic happen for me so infrequently that I can probably categorise the three different circumstances that they would ever usually happen under for ease of reference :

1) Losing or mis-placing my mobile phone (Happens more often than it should)

2) Getting my head stuck in something (More than an adult male should have to admit)

3) Speaking to a Spaniard.

The problem for me is that even after living and working in Spain for 7 years my Spanish is still embarrassingly shocking. What I should have done was began an intensive language course as soon as I landed on these sunny shores, however, as I was lucky enough to land a half-decent job pretty soon after arriving, that of course took precedence.

It wouldn't have been too bad if I was working for a Spanish company, but it was a British company, employing British staff, and working with British clients and British suppliers.

I might as well have been in England.

Add that to the fact that the hours were quite long, and on an evening and weekends my time was spent working on the Finca that I had just bought.

My friends and acquaintances were all made through work and so English speaking, and all of the clubs and associations in the immediate area were catering for, shall we say 'a different generation', and I wasn't really taken with the idea of learning how to make lace.

Obviously I made all the appropriate excuses as to why I couldn't learn the lingo.

We didn't have TV of any kind to start off with, and as most of my DVD's were moody, we couldn't change the language settings.

Obviously I have picked up quite a lot of vocab, and a decent amount of grammar over the years and my listening and reading of spanish isn't bad - just my speaking.

My problem is that whenever somebody speaks to me in Spanish I spend so long trying to get the reply 100% correct in my head, that by the time I am ready to reply the moment has passed by and I am left looking like the grinning imbecile who has lived in the village for 7 years and doesn't speak to anybody.

So next week I have enrolled myself on a 2 hour per week language & cultural course at the local town hall (all in Castillian, which for this area is a bonus !) in the hope that it will give me some opportunities to book my ideas up.

However, what I would really like, and what would suit me perfectly is some kind of boot camp : I would be taken away from home and my usual environment and to some location in Spain where nobody at all spoke any English whatsoever. I would live with a Spanish family who would bully me into making conversation at every opportunity and frog march me at gunpoint to various lessons and cultural events and make me speak spanish ad nauseum. Two weeks of hyper-intensive brainwashing should do the trick.

I have a pretty decent memory, I just need the opportunity !

Comment on this Blog

Interesting and honest piece. Language learning is no easy, and as the article clearly states, when living in an isolated area, or on the coastal strip surrounded by English - or Spanish speakers wanting to practice their English - it is much harder still. It sounds as though work hours prevent you from regular local contact? This - in my humble opinion - is the crux of the matter, as no matter how intensive the course you attend is....unless the lessons learnt are put into practice then they will be lost. And that brings us back to finding time again. Here, in the Poniente of Granada, we run Intercambio sessions twice a week to try and break down this fear of communication. They have been running for the last two years and are very successfull. We also tried an intensive weekend last year, with just 10 people and will probably repeat again this year, but it's backed up by a structure of Intercambios , classes and social activities organized around language throughout the year.
Gazpachomonk - Sun, 29th Jan 2012
I wish you every success Mr. Grumpy. It´s great that your course is all in Spanish and I hope there aren´t too many people on it so you can get individualized attention. I don´t think it matters too much if your teacher´s English or Spanish-speaking since both approaches have strengths. And I´m sure you´ll be amazed at how much Spanish you know without realising it. I really hope you enjoy it. As for boot camp, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, should be a good bet (if you get out alive.....)!
Mo - Thu, 27th Oct 2011
Is 'Fankle' even a word, or are you getting confused in English now aswell ?
Mr Grumpy - Thu, 27th Oct 2011
I agree Expat in Spain. I still don´t do very well on the phone. I can chat to my friends but I still get my hubbie to order pizza ´cos they tend to bark at you with kitchen bedlam behind them and I miss things. Although I´m as near bilingual as I probably ever will be (started Spanish properly at 14) I can still get in a right fankle. It might help to analyse exactly why we feel panic. Will they not understand me? Will I have a daft face on? Will they secretly despise me? If it´s just that, don´t worry. If it´s "will they remove my source of income and do away with my family?" that is worrying - but it´s not going to be that! So relax.
Mo - Thu, 27th Oct 2011
I don't know if this is any consolation, but even though my Spanish is quite good, and quite fluent, I still often feel that same slight panic that you talk about here when having to speak with a stranger (especially on the phone). I also, for some reason, continue to carry on those practice dialogues in my head before approaching a counter for some transaction... even though, as others here have said, the key is to learn how to be spontaneous. At some point it sounds like you are just going to have to take the plunge and make time to properly learn Spanish. But there is no shame in being too busy to do so if you are employed. That is no small feat in this economy. ¡Buena suerte!
An Expat In Spain - Thu, 27th Oct 2011
Gracias Mo ! ( y ademas gracias Google Translate )
Mr Grumpy - Wed, 26th Oct 2011
Tienes razón, Señor Gruñón, el método inmersión es el mejor. ¿Sabes por qué? Porque no te da tiempo a pensar. Pensar dificulta el hablar. Es mejor liberarte y hablar ..... Olvídate de la gramática, de lo bien dicho, del estilo y ¡simplemente habla! La comunicación es lo más importante. La reflexión y corrección vienen luego, después. Y si puedes entender esto, Sr. Gruñon, puedes hablar. Te lo digo yo, con mucho cariño. Mo xxx
Mo - Wed, 26th Oct 2011
Oooh, Señor Gruñón, come and spend some time with us! You´re unfortunate to live on the Costas where there´s too many Inglanders speaking the Queen´s Inglis! Actually, the best thing to do is Just Launch Forth. My linguist hubby talks about the "Affective Filter" (which is not on the end of an Embassy No.7 or whatever) but is what happens when you´re stressed about speaking Spanish. This filter blocks the good, instinctive Spanish your brain already knows and the linguistic resources you have. Which is why we all speak better Spanish when slightly drunk. So, don´t worry about grammatical correctness too much, just aim for communication and don´t stress about it and you´ll do better. (Book list available on request!) HERE is the link to my Blog & Language school detail if you like...

Mo - Tue, 4th Oct 2011

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