Español y Yo

Hola a Todos,

I know you’ve all been champing at the bit, waiting to hear my take on the differences and similarities between the Spanish and English languages, the slew of grammar goodies one should take very seriously should one wish to speak Spanish like a native. I am also well aware you’re interested in getting a good laugh out of all my problems communicating with Spanish people, but since you can find the former on the Internet and the latter in practically all of my other posts, I will instead grace you with my simple, yet creative, approaches to learning Spanish:

  1. Watching telenovelas: A great idea, as soap operas are filled with scenes involving the characters staring at each other before the next scene or commercial break, which allows me ample time to process that the evil twin is definitely going to shoot her father-in-law, after she cheats on her husband. I watched telenovelas a few times at the beginning of my stay here and understood some of what was going on but was frustrated that I wasn’t getting a clear-enough picture, so, now that my Spanish has improved some, I’ll watch them this summer. (When I was growing up, my mother forbade us kids to watch daytime soap operas or Peyton Place, because, well, she thought they set a bad example of life and relationships. Forgive me, Mom.)
  2. Studying my Instituto Cervantes book on the train rides to and from work. I did this some, but I found that while my grammar was getting better, my conversation wasn’t — and I needed more conversation, so I try to speak Spanish whenever the mood strikes.
  3. Attending a free Spanish class in Moncloa (Madrid). I signed up for these free CEPA (Centro de Educacion Para Adultos) classes in February and then found out two weeks later that I needed to have an operation, so my progress was impeded by an approved supply of drugs, doctor visits, and recovery time, plus feet that were killing me after I had spent so much of the school day standing and walking through huge train stations. Now that I live in Fuenlabrada, Moncloa is quite far to go to attend a class in which the teacher lives and breathes Spanish dictation.
  4. Speaking with a Spanish roommate. My ex-roommate, a Spanish girl, almost never talked to me, much less talked to me in Spanish, as she spoke English fairly well and, I assume, didn’t have the patience to listen to my Spanish. Why? Let’s put it nicely: Please remind me never ever EVER to live with anybody like this…EVER again. I now have an roommate from Cameroon, so I speak Spanish with him, plus 8 other languages, which he happens to know in case I ever want to attempt that.
  5. Attending language exchange parties in Madrid or talking with others one-on-one, e.g., our cleaning woman. I prefer the latter option, as our cleaning woman knows NO English, so I am forced to speak Spanish with her and can’t lapse into English. Also, I prefer a patient person.
  6. Talking with more people at school in Spanish. A good and obvious idea.
  7. Talking on Skype with people who want to exchange their Spanish for my English. I did this for a few weeks, and it was very good with three people, out of the dozens that contacted me, but there always being a lot of people to weed out, problems with schedules and people constantly changing the times. One girl I was supposed to meet in person said she was having personal problems and cancelled the appointment about five minutes before I was to meet her. For about two months, I didn’t have [my own] Internet connection, so I fell out of touch with the other people. I still might contact one of the guys I was in touch with. He was an excellent teacher and a good student! In the meantime,
  8. Borrowing movies from the libary and watching them in English with Spanish subtitles or in painful-to-listen-to Spanish dubbing over with English subtitles. I borrow movies a lot, partly because I hate to pay so much at the theatres to see a movie I might not like, the library is about a block away from where I live, I like reading the Spanish subtitles, I don’t like sitting with groups of people who either talk to each other or on their cell phones during the film. (I’m talking about Americans because I’ve been to the theatre only once here and the audience’s behavior happened to be excellent.) I went to an interesting performance the other day, and the people beside me talked the whole time. Call it a pet peeve, but I call it respecting the fact that we all paid to watch a show, not hear other people’s conversations.
  9. Trying to understand Hablar por Hablar. This is a podcast in which callers talk to a radio station host about their personal problems. The Spanish goes a little fast, and well, the problem is that I just now thought of it. I haven’t listened to it in a very long time, to tell you the truth, so it’s on my summer list.
  10. Reading free Spanish newspapers like Que? or 20 Minutos. I read them on the train sometimes.

So I have laid out for you all of my ideas for learning the Spanish language, besides, of course, the daily singing of Shakira songs. I would have made much more progress with Spanish had I done every one of these things every day, but I instead spent way too much time recovering from everything that happened tthis year, as well as thinking about the following silly things:

  • How much Shakira has accomplished at 32, including speaking 3 1/2 languages (the 1/2 being Italian, in addition to Spanish, English, and Portuguese), composing hundreds of songs, winning all sorts of awards, being an international superstar. These are the geniuses of the world, even though this one comes in a pretty package with hard abs. They don’t waste time: they get something done. I have accomplished some of what I have wanted to, but I know I have much more to do. (Maybe this isn’t such a silly thought after all)
  • Why, when walking down the street, hardly anyone, except me, moves out of the way. This happens in the States, too, but not with such alarming frequency
  • Why hardly anyone here holds the door for the person behind them or says “perdon” when they push past you
  • Why the saleswomen ignore you as they rush to hang up clothes right in front of you, even if the hook of the clotheshanger is stuck in your eyeball
  • Why Spanish [and AMERICAN] people, in a group, spend an hour talking about where they’re going to eat instead of quickly agreeing on something and saying, “Okay, let’s eat there!” A question I can’t help asking myself is, “Why hadn’t all of this been decided beforehand?” (Of course, what then never fails to happen is that now that I’ve made this remark, I’ll be guilty of debating with myself for 3 hours whether I should eat a Whopper at Burger King or head on over to McDonald’s for a tasty Big Mac. Decisions decisions.) I asked a Spanish teacher about this phenomenon, and she responded, “Because we don’t listen to each other.” I found that highly amusing.
  • Why I’m nervous about speaking Spanish in front of a group and always make elementary mistakes, like saying “Japon” (Japan) for “jamon” (ham)
  • Whether or not Spanish people who see me on the train reading a book in English and come to the conclusion that I’m an English speaker want to practice their English with me
  • If, upon my return to the States, my cats plan only to scratch my eyes out or if they opt for peeing on the new, queen-sized sleeper couch and queen-sized bed I bought for my tenant this past February.
  • Why I did a crazy thing like move to Spain, when this low-paying job is really for people in their 20s, and why I have experienced so many difficulties here and in Chicago. Trouble, simultaneously, on two continents (yeah, yeah, I know I’m an overachiever). Yes, I know age doesn’t matter and it’s a good experience and all of that bull, but for several months, I felt quite old in this position, especially since the other American teachers are in their early 20s. My hangup, definitely, because they don’t do or say anything to make me feel that way
  • How I’m going to be teaching drama at The English School this summer and will probably have a 10-year-old kid in my class whose mother or father taught at The Yale School of Drama and who will be questioning everything I’m doing
  • How difficult it is to find a cute, comfortable, closed pair of shoes (better for wearing my orthotics) here in my size
  • Why Spanish kids in their tweens, teens, and twenties can’t help making out like mad on the escalator, in the train station, or anywhere else in front of a load of people. Two girls boarded the train and proceeded to stand behind me and lock lips, complete with slurping noises. (Can I ask the director of this Spanish film to take me out of all of these makeout scenes or else at least pay me to be in them? My character? The long-suffering American witness to all of the Spanish exhibitionists)
  • How, when I look around the classroom, the kids are way too used to my being there, as if it’s a regular part of their day:


Interior: Seven-year-old Spanish child sits in bed.


(Expressionless and muttering to herself in Spanish)

Today, I’ll eat breakfast, go to school, have English class with Hallie, play outside, yell a lot, eat lunch, talk a lot, go home, and have a snack.


Cut to Classroom:


(Looks at Lydia. Furrows her brow. Tears drip from her cheeks, as she picks up Lydia.)

Well, couldn’t you be a little more excited that I’m here? Aren’t you curious about me?

(Lydia throws her pencil at Marta.
Frowning, Hallie sets Lydia back down in her chair.)

Oh, I forgot: You’re only seven years old and light as a toothpick.

Cut to: Hallie in a dark room at home

Hallie sits at the computer and blogs about Lydia.

  • Also how, when I look around the classroom, the kids are waving at me or looking at me or calling me over to see their latest gadget (I show excitement about a dog in a little basket a little boy I’m sure is gay shows me OR a deck of Hello Kitty! cards a little girl shows me)…or else to hold their hand or to help them with English or to tie their shoes or to hug me
  • How when I have taken something away from or reprimanded a student (e.g., Never throw scissors at other students! OR It’s rude to say “Joder”), the student has already either “forgiven” me or forgotten about the incident…or both. They’ll happily say “Hi, Hallie!” in the hall, as if nothing has happened. That’s the good thing about teaching kids who are seven and eight years old
  • How a guy from Cameroon is an excellent roommate and how he can speak nine languages — seven of which are African languages, which he says are all very different from each other — and how I sometimes can’t even remember a simple phrase in Spanish, like “It’s nice to meet you”

So, as you can see, I’m quite the busy gal, thinking about all kinds of things, real or imagined.

As my father once advised me: “Hal, you should always be able to entertain yourself,” words I have obviously taken to heart because not only did I come to Spain because I got a job, wanted to see more cities here, and have an adventure, I came partly to entertain myself a little more while honing my Spanish language skills. So now occupying my mind is my progress with the language, which, albeit slow, is happening, so while berating myself for not knowing more of the language because I’ve been a smidge lazy and thinking about the ridiculous, I have indeed accomplished most of my goals.

And this summer, Javier and I are going to be teaching each other more of each other’s language — although I can’t help but think that I don’t know either English or Spanish at this point. He wants to be certified for a certain level in English, and I would like to get past “Hola” in Spanish, so we have both have our own books and a structured way of studying.

Perhaps this is one of my not-so-silly ideas.


International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English Literature

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English/EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages, 312.285.8429

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s