Earlier this year, Nina, a former student of Coffee Shop Spanish, was admitted to the Auxiliares de Conversación program in Spain. She arrived in the beautiful Andalusian town of Granada in late September, 2016 and has graciously offered to take us with her by way of regular guest posts during her year-long journey.
Below, you can read about her experience speaking Spanish with natives and her surprising discovery of their reaction.
I’ve heard mixed experiences when it comes to what native speakers think of non-native speakers of their language. Coming to Spain, I was more than a little nervous how I would be received, especially arriving speaking less than perfect castellano. So recently when I toured a castle, I got a bit more insight into this experience in Spain.
El Castillo de Santa Catalina sits just above the city of Jaen, only a 35-minute drive from the school I work at. I love castles and history, so I made plans to go with a fellow “auxiliar” (a fellow English teacher like me) who lives in Jaen.
Once we arrived to the castle entrance, we were greeted by a lovely tour guide named Javier. He could tell that we were American (likely because we were either speaking American English to each other or we had accents when we spoke Spanish). Either way, he said something to us in English, “welcome” or something of the like.
As a side note… Whenever I meet Spaniards who start speaking English to me, I ask “¿hablas Ingles?” (Do you speak English?). I do this because, one, it lets them know that I can speak Spanish in case they are not so comfortable in English and, two, I am also in Spain partly to practice my Spanish, so I do not mind speaking it one bit. Spaniards, I’ve found, are often a little gun shy and will often respond “un poquito” (a little bit).
So, to my surprise, when the man responded, he said that my Spanish was probably better than his English, so we continued the conversation in Spanish. He seemed quite intrigued that we were teaching English in Spain and he even got us the student discount price because they put us on student visas as auxiliaries (still not sure why, but whatever). He was also so excited to tell us all about the castle, as Jaen is a lovely and often overlooked part of Spain and tourists often opt for places like Granada or Cordoba.
After walking around and photographing the castle, Javier was there excitedly asking us how the experience was. I told him that I have a blog (aworldofdresses.com) and that I planned to write about my experience. He seemed excited and insisted he take a photo of me in front of the sign. I also happened to have a few business cards on me for the blog, so I gave him one so we could stay connected.
Crazy enough, we ran into Javier one more time as we were trying to head back to the city center after enjoying a beer in the restaurant of the hotel. You see, the castle is up on a hill without bus access, so to get there, we had taken a taxi. But there we were at the front desk of the hotel asking if they could call us a taxi when we run into our dear friend, Javier, again. He’s headed home for the day and he is willing to give us a ride back down. “¡Que suerte!” as the Spaniards would say (how lucky!).
So on the car ride down, we had a lovely conversation in Spanish about my blog. He told me that he looked it up and said he finds fashion to be interesting, as he has a wife, sisters and other women in his life. We had a chat about how I wish to write more of my blog in both languages and how bettering my writing in Spanish is the next step as I can already have conversations with people. We get dropped off in the center and thank him for his warm hospitality.
Looking back, it’s interactions like these that would not have been as possible or as rich if I knew no Spanish. I thought back to about a month prior when I hosted a fellow auxiliar for a night when she last-minute needed a place to stay. It was her second year in Spain and we were talking about Spanish. I mentioned that I just came out of a year of working at Su Casa Hispanic Center, so speaking Spanish hadn’t been as big of a struggle as I thought. I also mentioned that I specifically decided to live with Spaniards because I wanted to practice my Spanish every day. Her response was, “They are going to love you here because you speak Spanish. So many people don’t even try!”
This popped back to my mind after my interaction with Javier. He seemed so genuinely impressed that I was willing to engage in conversation with him in his language, even considering that my Spanish is often full of grammar mistakes. But to so many here, that really is not important and they love it when you make a simple effort.
When I speak Spanish with natives, I feel like it conveys to them why I’m here. It conveys to them a genuine interest to experience their way of life and culture. And I cannot tell you how many things would have been different for me here if I’d chosen to not use my Spanish beyond “una cerveza, por favor.”
My Spanish has progressed to where it is, not because I have some special gene or talent; it’s at that level because I constantly put myself in situations where I’m forced to speak. Whether that’s dinner with my roommates, talking with the tour guide, or getting tapas with a Spanish friends instead of an American friend, I find that I actively choose to speak Spanish. I know that the more I speak, the better I will be, and the more amazing anecdotes I’ll have like the one with Javier.
What opportunities do you have to practice your Spanish? If you do not live in a country like Mexico or Spain, you still have many opportunities at your fingertips! Websites like italki.com (or tandem.com (Daniel’s recommendation)) can connect you with language partners all over the world. Furthermore if you’re in the US, most big cities have social service agencies that serve the Hispanic/Latino population (like Su Casa). They’re usually always looking for volunteers. How cool is it that you can practice a language and help your community at the same time? Also many cities have meet ups and conversation groups, including Coffee Shop Spanish. Bottom line, you have to find regular opportunities where you’re forced to speak. The more you speak, the more you will improve.
And people will love you for it.