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Dabbling in 'Valencispanglish'

By Jo Green - Mon 5th Jul 2010

The two of you who have read my blogs in the past ( thanks Mum, thanks Dad ) will know that I live in a rural inland village in Valencia, and that my daughter goes to a Spanish nursery in the Pueblo, so I won't dwell on that too much. Suffice to say that although our Castilian has improved considerably over the years, we will never be truly accepted until we can grasp even a slight understanding of the regional language – Valenicano.

To an outsider the Valencian language sounds a cross between a Spaniard talking in a very lazy / poor Castilian accent and French, and it can really cause problems to an unsuspecting tourist who isn't even aware that a second language exists.

My daughter attends a nursery where English isn't even spoken at all (why should it be ?), but there seems to be a difference of opinion between the staff working there as to what the principal spoken language should be. As a result they speak both, and my daughter is now reasonably conversant (as much as a three year old can be ) in the three languages.

It can often get a bit hairy in the playground as she is pretty well-known by all the other parents, who chat to her in whatever language, and often assume that we are capable in either Valenciano or Castilian.

My partner and I were summoned to a meeting at the local school last week ahead of her starting her first year in September. We had no illusions that any of the meeting would be held in English and this didn't bother us too much. We were confident in what Castilian we knew, to be able to understand the whole 'feel' of the meeting, even if there were a number of words or sentences that lost us.

The meeting kicked off with each of the 5 teachers doing a small presentation on a different aspect of the school and what we should expect. My heart sank a little when I saw that the power-point presentation was headed with bullet point in Valeniano.

The first teacher kicked off her part with crystal clear Castilian, but things took a turn for the worse when the second teacher took over with a very strong Valeniano accent and that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the presentation.

Out of the 30 or so sets of parents present at the meeting about half were Non-Valencians, made up of South Americans, French, English and a few Spaniards from outside the region and who didn't understand the local language.

One of the English parents, who was clearly fluent in Castilian, asked if it was possible for the meeting to be held in Castilian as opposed to Spanish. The headmaster asked the teacher if she would oblige, and she replied no, she wasn't confident to speak Castilian that well, and nobody else was prepared to speak Castilian on her behalf. The headmaster then said that as Valenciano was quite similar to Castilian, it would be possible for non-speakers to follow the thread of the meeting, and then to ask any questions on points that they did not understand at the end.

Fair enough.

However, one of the South American parents asked why indeed the children should be taught in Valenciano at all, and that it was ridiculous that the meeting was being held in this language when there were so many English parents present.

At this point the meeting descended into a political argument and the thing was that, yet again, it was the English that were branded as the troublesome 'Guiris', even though we were happy for the meeting to proceed and for our children to be taught in Valenciano – just some South American using us Brits as an excuse to pick her own fights !

I suppose the bottom line is that it is becoming increasingly important for me to start to learn the local language, but classes, phrase-books and dictionaries (even on-line translators) seem pretty thin on the ground. I have decided instead to concentrate on getting my Castilian to a much higher standard in the hope that this will enable a little more Valenciano to rub off on me.

In the meantime I will be taking lessons from my daughter.

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