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.

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9 responses to “Spanglish

  1. 🙂 I’m no better, been with carlos 13 years and still can’t speak to his mom who doesn’t speak You should get flash cards!! Go onto amazon and do a search, ill also look here and send you some 😉

  2. Lol! I’m not any better, 13 years and I still can’t speak to carlos’ mom…lol! 😉 you should by flash cards, ill keep my eye out for some and send them to you 🙂

    • oh Helen! You understand perfectly about not being able to communicate with the in-laws. Thank goodness both David’s mom and dad speak French so we’re able to communicate somehow…

  3. If anyone can do it, its you Sara! Spanish is easier than french, you so got this!!! Have you thought about those cds that you can order that teach different languages??

    • Thanks for the words of encouragement, Amy! My parents bought me some CDs and they’ve helped me with the basics, but, unfortunately, communicating with the family requires much more than the basics! Baby steps…

  4. Don’t worry, girl, you can do it! You survived France; you can conquer Spain. I am loving reading your posts… Do you have an email address? I can’t wait to come and visit… And don’t forget, I’m living vicariously through you!

    • Oh Erin! You remember when we joked about how I was about to leave for Spain and hadn’t yet started studying? Well, I’m feeling it now! It’s very comforting knowing that you’re reading my blog. I wish I could be sitting next to you so that I could see all your reactions to everything! 🙂 My email is Did you get my email with my new contact info??

  5. Sara, dear, you know that I keep track of you and what you’re doing! You are a most fantastic writer… Of course I’m reading your blog!!!! I did get your email, (which is how I’m here), but I wasn’t sure about your email. I’ll be writing to you!

  6. It’s not Spanish you should be learning – it’s Chinese! You have been so stubborn about only learning French, now you have opened your mind to learning the language of the people around you (unlike Taiwan!) I’m just kidding, but you describe the challenges of learning another language so well! When you lose all patience – you have Sushi, Gizmo and me (by phone) you can talk to – or in the very least, you can just sit there and look pretty!!! (And hand gestures and drawn pictures work wonders!)

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