Thursday, September 5, 2013

Learning Castellano

I've had this conversation at least 83 times:

Me: "...so that's how I came to live and work in Spain."

Random person: "Wow! So you must be like, fluent in Spanish!"

Well, not quite. After finishing up at Santander at the end of July, I resolved to spend the summer focusing on my Spanish.

I started having regular sessions with my tutor Ana, who is interested in a lot of the same things I am, so we spent the summer in streetside cafes in Lavapies discussing Spanish foreign policy, the economy, philosophy and international relations. Ana did a wonderful job helping me to prepare for a Foreign Service Spanish test that would accelerate my start date (theoretically).

Given that I spent a lot of time listening and writing at Santander, I tried to do a lot more speaking over the summer. In addition to monologues with Ana, I recorded myself speaking on topics for 5-7 minutes a few times each day. If you think listening to your own voice is bad, imagine listening to your own voice hesitate and struggle to remember vocabulary in a terrible gringo accent.

One of the easier Spanish exercises I did was to rent a ton of movies from Madrid's libraries and become acquainted with Spanish cinema. If you ever do the same, I recommend Spanish movies like Belle Epoque and 23-F. I do not recommend a dubbed Spanish version of 2012. Guess which one was filled with plot holes, terrible characters and implausible plot points!?



A lot of my expatriate friends left the country, so my social scene got a lot more Spanish as well. My thanks to Kristina, Liliana, Davíd, other Davíd, Veronica, Portuguese Ana, Isael, Liz, Santiago and of course my first and most enduring Spanish friend Fátima, all of whom spent hours chatting with me about everything under the sun.


With all this support and 11 months of Spain under my belt, I took the Foreign Service Spanish language exam. And failed. Oops. Even though my Spanish isn't at a professional level according to the State Department, I'm not disappointed because after this summer I've come away with a much higher level of Spanish than I could have ever dreamed and a deeper understanding of Spanish humor and culture.


The Foreign Service thing isn't over... assuming that the US Congress eventually passes a budget, even a temporary one, I should (hopefully) be starting at some point in 2014, with or without professional Spanish.

But no. I am apparently not fluent in Spanish.