Monday, 21 February 2011

Its a minefield out there...

It didn´t take many weeks of unanswered applications and curt rejection letters last year before I decided to abandon any hopes of securing a career in London and leave the country: a logical solution when faced with the unappealing reality of unemployment in one of the world´s most expensive cities. However, on reflection, choosing Madrid as the destination seems anything but a logical choice: not only does it have one of the highest rates of unemployment in Europe, I hadn´t so much as glanced at anything Spanish since my last A level exam in 2006.

Even so, however irrational my decision at the time, I – touchwood – seem to have landed on my feet: job, flat, interesting people and lovely weather. Granted, dreams of becoming bilingual within three months were somewhat optimistic: I have been here for just over four months, and only have a basic level of fluency in Spanish - comprehension can still be hazardous and sentences are short, stacatto and restricted by a limited range of vocabulary. However, coping with a modest command of spanish has opened doors to an imaginative range of communication outside of speech: scribbling drawings on napkins, using random props from the street, facial expressions, extravagant gestures, over-the-top intonation... It seems that anyone willing and armed with a smile can converse, be it a dialogue of Italian and Spanish or double dutch and gobbledygook

Luckily, I am surrounded by patient spaniards keen to jot down phrases in my notebook, which is now full of spiky doodles and illustrative diagrams. I have realised that however long spent studying connectors, conditionals and the subjunctive in the classroom, easy fluency will only come after theatrical conversations and frequent misunderstandings, and will more than likely remain elusive until I have been living here for several years or more. Even then, I imagine that keeping track of the forever-changing multitude of expressions will be a challenge. Even as my confidence grows, using these native colloquialisms remains a potential minefield for any non-native speaker. There are phrases that become nonsensical if you miss out a seemingly inconsequential pronoun, words with opposite meanings in different contexts, a surplus of idioms - some vulgar, some cheesy, some snobbish, the confusion of double meanings. On top of that, there´s regional accents, local dialects, slang that means one thing in one city and something different somewhere else... I have visions of proudly delivering a recently-learnt phrase to my boss only to find out it´s actually the spanish equivalent of abusive cockney slang. You never can be too sure what your friends are teaching you after a few beers!

As much as I hate to refer to my A level English text Translations, the quote ´you can learn the language of the tribe, but the password will always allude you´ seems relevant, if a little dramatic: although shaking off clumsy literal translations from English to Spanish is simply a matter of time, learning the subtleties of the language is something else altogether.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Justifying keeping hours empty

As much as I am all for keeping my idle hours empty, I can´t help but feel twinges of guilt when I turn down the offer of a new class. When recently offered a one-hour-a-week conversation class with a beginner, situated only a short metro ride away from my flat, I spent a whole day agonising over whether I should accept it.

Though I may well regret my decision to turn it down when March arrives and I have to pay my rent, I can at least take comfort in the fact that I am making the most my spare hours. I recently stumbled across a spanish tour operator who lives next door, and being a resident tourist myself, have started writing articles for their blog: Best Spain Travel.

I have used my first article, The Timetable of the MadrileƱo, to rationalize why I rejected that conversation class. I suppose now to justify keeping my comfortable timetable of classes, I will just have to keep on writing...

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Keeping idle hours empty

Its February. Everyone has weathered the post Christmas slump and survived the slog through the first month of the year. Society has relaxed back into monotonous routine and holidays are now either a distant memory or a vague future plan. Like everyone else suffering from January Blues, I was dreading the return to normality – groggy early starts, the squash of rush hour on public transport, lengthy to-do lists that eat into already restricted free time...

However, contrary to expectation, I have found myself welcoming the humdrum ryhthm of normality - regular company classes, teaching plans and spanish lessons. In fact, easing myself into the routine of work was suprisingly painless. On reflection, this may have something to do with the fact that I have carefully crafted a comfortable, well-spaced timetable: one that leaves plenty of time for reading, writing, people-watching and yoga. As a result, I am significantly more flexible and well-read that I was at the end of December.

Recently, I have been making the most of my empty hours to revisit my trip to Asia. When travelling, the continual change of situ left little time to digest the adventure, let alone organise it into coherent prose. Now, snuggled under blankets in my flat - teapot on-hand and laptop balanced precariously on my knee - I have time to relive the moments.

As such, although my timetable is somewhat lacking in classes, and I should invest energy in finding more work, I am finding it all to easy to justify keeping my “empty” hours empty. Thankfully, my efforts have not been entirely fruitless and I do have something to show for my idle hours: so far I have had one article published, “Bokor Hill Station, The Forgotten Cambodia” (p.42).

Fingers crossed its the first of many...