How do solve a problem like Spanish?

One problem with TEFL is that working in English all day, can make it difficult to improve your own language skills.

After a long day of classes, you might want to unwind by watching TV, reading a book or listening to music. The only Spanish you might use all day is to order a coffee, or to say hello or goodbye. I am not against taking classes, but it can be difficult to fit them into your schedule, when you also teach evenings.

One problem I have found in Spain, is that people refuse to accept that you can speak in their language, and anyway, they want to practice their English. Conversely, some people spend a whole conversation congratulating you on your smattering of words and phrases. Either way, you don't get much chance to practice and improve.

Another curse of teaching language, is that you become a good communicator. You learn to avoid the language that you don't know, and to work your way around it. You find a different route to understanding. This really puts the kai bosch on you increasing range and cutting out errors.

To ensure that I improve my Spanish at least a little, here are some steps I have taken since moving to Pamplona:


Bilingual living

Living with Spanish speakers (native and non native), is one way to ensure you get some conversation. We don't have a strict schedule for speaking English or Spanish, it depends on who feels like speaking what, and when. The important thing is that the topics you cover vary from the usual.

Whilst language exchange events can be useful, you tend to introduce yourself a lot, so getting deeper into a conversation can be more difficult. There are certain topics that I'm sick to the back teeth of discussing:

The monarchy
The difference between England, Great Britain, and the UK
Bad British food
The weather

Please no more!

Hosting travellers and couch surfers can be another way to connect with Spanish speakers. It is not every day you meet Costa Rican cyclists who want to tell you about getting their first tattoo (of their wife's names), but that happened recently!


Escucha a la musica:

While I have opened my music tastes a little, I'll be honest, I don't know a whole lot of songs or artists who sing in Spanish. I listen to the radio in Spanish (Radio 3 is my favourite), but there is a difference between passively understanding the sentiment of lyrics, and really understanding them.

For music groups that people recommend, I make sure to look them up on the website Lyrics Training. Lyrics training is a kind of game where you have to listen and type in the words which appear in sync with the music. It really helps you to understand every line, and after five attempts or so, the song is definitely stuck in your head! If they don't have a song, you can add it quite easily yourself.

Another point on music that I must make is to share my bad experience with a music shop here. Please indulge me some blog space to badmouth Unión Musicál. I realise most readers live outside of Pamplona, but anything logged on the internet to hurt there business is good in my book.

Do not use Unión Musicál UME music shop / no utilize Unión Musicál UME tienda de musica
They give bad service and will trick you / Dan muy mal servicio y se engañarán

If you are genuinely interested in my tale of woe, you can see my review here. Spread the word.


On the sofa

I must admit, that the videos I watch are mostly in English. Spanish TV is mostly news, and reality shows. I have switched on Spanish subtitles on our TV though, which helps to distinguish between the acronyms of the 15 or so political parties.

Some TV shows I have enjoyed are Club de Cuervos (Mexican football comedy), El Principe (Spanish police drama), TUF Latin America (reality fighting show) and Narcos (only half in Spanish and Escobar has a funky Brazilian accent).

TV is OK, but Spanish and Latin American cinema is a much better way to learn Spanish. I've written before about some Latin American films worth watching, and after a few more months here, I will have some more to recommend.


Practice what you preach

Some other ways I have been trying to improve a little include setting aside three hours a week for boring grammar exercises and by reading books I've already read in English. With stories you know, you can focus less on the characters and events, and more on the words!

I have also been contacting one friend per day in Spanish on Facebook. The amount of practice you get from this method tends to depend on how much they like you.

I am trying to arrange another interchange of classes. Conversation and some book style learning. I have done this before, and it can be beneficial if both parties put in the effort. At the very least, it is more time dedicated to the subject, and a weekly reminder for the need to improve. I am not sure if my goal with Spanish is to take an exam, to sound more natural or to reach a certain level, but I think weekly classes will help me figure it out.

To fit in extra work like this, you often have to sacrifice something, and my weekly Juevinxos hangover might have to be it! I am by no means making leaps and bounds with Spanish, but without making time for it I run the risk of being another TEFL hypocrite, preaching about the need to learn language all day, while speaking only one. English.

and now to translate all of this into Spanish . . .