As an American, I have always been somewhat embarrassed to learn just how many people speak English around the world in addition to their native language when so many Americans speak only one language. Many people from other countries speak 3,4,5, or even six languages, and I continue to find this both awe inspiring and humbling.
However, Granada is one of those places on earth where most of the natives also speak only one language. It just happens to be Spanish! And you won’t go into a store, market, gymnasium, or barbershop without needing some basic Spanish for whatever task you set out to accomplish. It’s a challenge, and I can now say with complete confidence that we have all risen to it. The four of us are now fully equipped to navigate the city and manage everything from ordering food to buying school supplies or household appliances. We can get around this city without fail, and I am proud of that.
That being said, I can’t say that there haven’t been some humorous moments. When we first arrived and I was looking to purchase a fan for Karen, I informed the salesperson that I needed to buy a fan because my wife was smoking hot–true but not exactly the message I was trying to convey at that moment. Fortunately for us, Spaniards are incredibly patient and our efforts alone are always met with support and kindness. I really can’t think of a better place for adults to try and learn a new language without scorn, ridicule, and frustration.
At that same time, these interactions usually cover only about 5 minutes time, and it is much harder to develop the proficiency to hold a longer, more profound conversation in Spanish. This was something I hoped to accomplish during the course of the year. Karen found the flyer below for me at a local restaurant, and I began taking conversational Spanish lessons, once a week, for 90 minutes.
The approach was incredibly simple. I meet my teacher Marta at Terra Bar, just around the corner from our apartment and talk with her for 90 minutes in conversation. Along the way, she corrects my mistakes, tenses, and teaches me new words and phrases. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to speak in another language for 90 minutes straight. Even for someone who enjoys conversation as much as I do, this is challenging. My head hurts at the end of every class, but I love it. Marta is really patient, and it has been enjoyable for me to try and navigate all of the nuances and twists and turns of, not just speaking in another language, but having “conversaciones más profundos” en español.
It certainly gives you an appreciation of anyone who is truly bilingual or trilingual. What an achievement. And it provided me with a much better perspective regarding what Jackson and Cassius have gone through day after day. They really have been rock stars. To that end, our sons are well on their way when it comes to their Spanish. Jackson is basically fluent. He may not know every word in the Spanish language but he functions like a native here–on the street, in school, and at the field. There really isn’t anything he can’t handle, and his command of the language has helped him immerse himself in the culture in real and meaningful ways. He also helps us with everything from ordering pizzas to filing out our expat paperwork to speaking with government officials on our behalf. For Karen and I, this has honestly been incredible to witness. He even speaks with the quickened pace of Spaniards and complete with the Andalusian accent. It is so impressive, or as they say here….impresionante! Cassius is much less confident speaking, but he knows a ton. After all, he’s listened to Spanish for 6 hours a day in school and his comprehension is far what he would like you to believe. But he knows what is going on, and it only takes one of my small mistakes for him to break his silence.
That being said, both Cassius and Karen prefer when people speak to them in English, while Jackson and I are more determined to pursue our inner Spaniard. Karen, for her part, is incredible in her own way. Although she is much less interested in learning the language beyond her current level, I am convinced there isn’t a woman on earth who can do more with a handful of Spanish words, emotive hand signals, some English words mixed in with an O on the end of them, and a true zest for life that Spaniards, of all people, know how to embrace and identify with. As always, she has done it her own way, and she is amazing.
At the end of the day, we have put ourselves here, in this new culture, woven into this old country, and we are learning. It has been a different journey for each of us, and we each continue to navigate it in our own way. But, unlike the insatiable desire for instant gratification in the US, we really aren’t in a hurry. We don’t have to be fluent tomorrow (or ever), and nobody will condemn us one way or another. There is plenty of time to keep traveling down our respective paths. As our Spanish friends say here, tranquilo. And poco a poco. Or no pasa nada. Words to live by indeed.