Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sunshine, tapas, beautiful plazas… and unnecessarily complex grammatical gobbledegook

I have recently returned from a long weekend in Madrid. In preparation for uprooting to the Spanish capital in September, I spent the few days I had there optimistically searching for flats and potential employers.

Although my search was fruitless, after flip-flopping my way through the various barrios in Madrid, map in one hand dictionary in the other, I do feel I got a basic hold on the geography of the city. Having walked in disorientated circles for the first few days, by the end of the trip I had discovered short routes to my favourite people-watching hot spots – the Plaza Mayor being the prime location.

The enormous square seems to have been purpose-built for watching the world meander past, and with buskers serenading tables at restaurants, artists showing exhibitions of their work and a curiously out-of-place, overweight Spiderman flogging photographs to Americans, there is no end of entertainment for interested onlookers. I also got a good feel for ‘la vida en espaƱa’. I enjoyed lingering over ‘tortillas de patatas’ at lunchtime, soaking up the sunshine with a beer in the evening and dining out when English pubs would be calling last orders.

The language however was something else: my A level Spanglish was wholly inadequate. I was totally nonplussed when listening to the rapid garble that is naturally spoken Spanish and was completely incomprehensible to any native speaker, stuttering nonsensical sentences that were littered with incorrectly conjugated verbs and limited by a miserably small range of vocabulary.

As such, on returning last week I was compelled to delve into my old Spanish grammar notes with a certain urgency. The prospect of returning in September to a job hunt with only a stilted command of Spanish was a powerful incentive to go back to the books.

Sadly, my dip into Spanish grammar has revealed a general knowledge of grammar that is severely lacking. A complex jumble of possessive adjectives, prepositional pronouns and reflexive verbs, multiple past tenses, auxiliary verbs and subjunctive moods, I can barely understand it in English let alone Spanish. I can’t help but feel hopelessly out of my depth!

Not to be put off, I have decided to adopt a different style of self-teaching. Rather than bash my brain with over-complicated grammatical jargon, I have resorted to a less direct approach, relying on ‘learning by immersion in the language’. This tactic has enabled me to abandon the tortuous monotony of grammar drills in favour of watching episodes of ‘Sex and the City’ in Spanish, listening to Spanish radio and perusing Spanish magazines.

Watch this space…