I wish I had studied Spanish in school. It would have really come in handy now at this point in my life. I wish I had heeded the advice of my parents-in-law who have repeatedly told me ever since I married their son that I needed to learn Spanish. It would have made this whole experience quite a different experience. But I didn’t. Instead, I stubbornly picked French because, though highly impractical, it sounded nice, and I brushed off the wise words of my in-laws because what was the point? We already shared a common language: French.
But now I see the folly of my decision. Because I now live in Spain… and I don’t speak Spanish. A month in, and I’m seeing that it’s not as easy as everyone said it would be. Even with my knowledge of English and French, Spanish sounds dreadfully foreign.
But, to be honest, it wasn’t bad in the beginning. My sister, Coral, was here for the first week (being the good big sis that she is, she escorted me to my new country and my new home and helped make sure I was OK before flying back to the US) and with her by my side, it didn’t matter what language everyone else was speaking. And, since then, David has been by my side. He talks, he translates, he is my ears, my vocal chords, my full time translator. Getting around Torrevieja is fine as long as he’s with me. And, if anything, learning Spanish has taken back seat to working on getting my papers (I’m currently in the process of getting my residency card), doing some freelance writing, and exploring my new surroundings. I’ve rationalized my lack of progress by priding myself on my very little progress instead. I’ve been picking up words here and there. For example, ordering ice cream at the heladeria with Coral motivated me to learn how to ask for a scoop.
But that very limited – albeit necessary – knowledge is no longer cutting it. Recently, we’ve been spending much more time with David’s aunt, uncle and his cousins – all of whom don’t speak English. I felt it painfully after our first outing with his cousin and his cousin’s girlfriend when we visited two different tea places (tea cafe is definitely not the right term for them in English as they both were exquisitely elaborate and breathtakingly beautiful. The first one was like walking into caves with small tables placed throughout. The second is run by a retired couple in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Locals drive from all directions – even with the roughly $7/gallon gas prices – to get there. The couple built it in their very large backyard and have different rooms and coves where you can choose from a nice selection of teas and smoke sheeshah).
After a combined total of about six hours drinking tea and listening to people talking in a language I didn’t understand, I was mentally exhausted and frustrated. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself, so I did the only thing that would make me feel better: I took it out on David. I knew that I had the wrong attitude about the whole situation. I knew that I only had myself to blame for my lack of Spanish and that this type of experience was to be expected. But I felt excluded from the group and blamed David for not translating more.
As frustrating as that evening was, it was a wake up call that I need to learn Spanish. I’m not one of those people who can just come to a foreign land, turn on the TV, and, without any official classes, learn the language. I don’t quite have that same knack. It’s a much more concentrated effort for me. So I will relaunch my search for affordable classes (previous searches revealed prices of about $750 for one month of courses and, consequently, scared me off) and make it a priority. In the meantime, I have tried to learn new verbs and vocabulary on a daily basis and I continue to keep my ears open in case something – anything – seeps through! And of course this opens up new experiences – like when Coral and I were at David’s dad’s restaurant in the beginning and were listening to a conversation that David was having with the cook shortly after a guy tried to sell us pirated movies. We heard “negro” several times and were both convinced that the cook was warning David to not buy dvds off the black market. We were dismayed to find out that we had totally misunderstood. Instead, the cook was asking about Sushi, our black cat.
And just to illustrate what a long way I have to go, it turns out that I can’t even recognize Spanish words that are the same as in English. When I kept hearing David and his cousins talking about “wiki”, the only thing that came to mind was wikipedia. When I later asked David what in the world “wiki” meant, he explained they were talking about whiskey but, as if to make my daunting task even more challenging, the villagers don’t pronounce the “s”.
The one good thing that has come out of all of this so far is that I have gained a newfound admiration for David when he first arrived to California. While he could speak English, he was far from fluent and still managed to work in a super nice french restaurant and describe each dish, made of ingredients that I didn’t even know, in English. He pulled it off and I don’t think I ever fully comprehended his accomplishment – until now.
On the positive side of things, even though my Spanish is practically non existent, I definitely know more than when I came. And David’s family has been extremely patient and kind to me even though communication is severely limited. They’ve made me feel as included as possible and, in really desperate situations, have even dug deep to pull out an English word that they learned in school long ago but, until then, had never actually said.
And my attitude is better. I need something to push me to actually learn Spanish and there’s nothing better than actually living in Spain and having these types of experiences to force it to happen.