Language Learning

We are coming up to our 9 year anniversary of living in Spain. Nearly a decade. A lot has happened in that time. We’ve bought three houses and renovated them. We’ve set up a couple of businesses. My other half has written and published a sport climbing guide book to the region. I’ve gained a titanium plate and seven screws in my right arm. We’ve had a son, who is now, unbelievably, 5 years old. And all this time (more or less, at varying rates and with varying degrees of success) I have been learning Spanish.

So, you guess I must speak it perfectly by now then? Wrong! Sadly you over-estimate my linguistic capacities. Having said that, I would dare to say that I am pretty fluent (or maybe my definition of the word has changed?). I can understand and make myself understood in everything from business negotiations to bus-stop conversations. I can even draft a bi-lingual legal document or two. But there is a world of difference between practical fluency and effortless perfection. And there’s the rub.


Would you look at the dust on that?

Would you look at the dust on that? Disgraceful.

Thus I have decided to set aside  dreams of Spanish-speaking perfection. I am not a small child whose malleable mind and soft palate are poised to be formed into bi-lingual brilliance. I am a middle-aged woman whose mind is fast-deteriorating and whose tongue is thick and set in its ways, not about to be twisted round rolling rs and lisping cs and zs.

And so I have flopped on to a language plateau. I have ceased to study. My grammar workbooks gather dust on my shelves and glower at me as I giggle along to ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ on BBC iPlayer. My local library card has lapsed. I have accepted that I will never be able to make a credit card payment using voice recognition software (nor attempt it without being brought to a murderous fury).

But periodically a little doubt has niggled. Am I not just giving in? Is this not just a purely defeatist, self-limiting belief that is creating its own reality? Couldn’t I just try harder?

Then last month I read these 10 tips for language learning in The Guardian. All great advice. But note number 6: ‘ignore the myths, age is just a number’. Oh crap. There really is no excuse for not keeping trying….

Like a runner who has hit the wall in a marathon, I am just going to have to keep going. One foot in front of the other. Always moving forward. I may not be able to face the grammar books right now but I can at least choose Spanish talk radio over Europa FM  whilst driving (a blessed relief, to be frank.) I can buy the 1€ revistas de corazón (gossip magazines) and flick through the pictures, letting the everyday language flick past my eyes and flow over my unconscious (everyone needs to know the Spanish for cellulite and bullfighter right?). I can listen when my 5 year-old son simply and perfectly corrects my pronunciation (rather than just nod and/or bristle).

My progress may never again be as rapid or as dramatic as when I first arrived on these shores, a naiive non-Spanish speaker with a keen motivation to learn but there is still plenty of progress to be made. I just need to find ways to keep it interesting and rewarding. Heck, maybe I could even use it as an excuse for a holiday go on a residential course for an intensive boost? Surely it’s about time I started branching out into south american Spanish?


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  1. I reckon you’re being way too hard on yourself! :o)…. If you can get by in business negotiations and conversations at a bus stop you must be doing something right! And you’ve done so much in your nine years in Spain – three renovations! X

  2. Ignore what the Guardian says about language learning, I’d say! I have been grappling with Spanish myself – unlike English, which I learned as a teen, I am simply not able to get anything slightly more complicated into my head. At all. And sorry to burst your bubble, I’m talking South American Spanish here … ;-)
    On the upside, my (South American) boyfriend, who has been living in the UK for over a decade, has his own battles to fight with voice recognition :-)

    • It’s definitely a LOT harder learning a language the older you are….but I’d still like to think it’s possible…just slower and harder work!! On the flip side, it’s a great thing to do as you get older because the challenge keeps your brain active and hence younger (she says hopefully!) And I must say I’m glad to hear it’s not just me struggling with voice recognition!!

      • I used to struggle with the German voice recognition because of my strong southern accent … then I developed the same problem in the UK by living in Belfast …
        Btw I loved Asturias and the Picos, we had a lovely holiday there a few years ago!

  3. bavariansojourn says:

    I always hate those “why learning a language is easy peasy” articles. Those authors have clearly never actually lived abroad. I am not bitter at those people who can speak a new language within months (like my husband!) honest! Congrats on your 9 years! Emma xx

  4. :):):) hi! I like a lot your blog! It’s amazing!!! I am from asturias (gijon) and I love your blog! I’m living in Germany for already 3 years, and I understand what you mean with the problems learning the language.. I am also able to understand (in my case german) watch a movie, have a conversation… But some days I am just slower, hehe, and the pronunciation… Oh my pronunciation is very sad :( but learning a new language and living abroad for a while is challenging, it’s nice :) I hope you will continue living in asturias and being happy there. It is a special place. La tierrina tira mucho. Puxa asturies ;) te leo. Lorena

    • Hi Lorena, and thank you so much for your lovely comment! Sorry I didn’t see it before now to reply. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my language struggles – and it’s even nicer to hear that you enjoy my little blog. Great motivation to keep it going, which is needed at the moment as life is so busy! Un abrazo fuerte desde Asturias!!! :-)

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