An inevitable aspect of traveling is the ‘language barrier’. My dad said “How will spending the winter in France or Spain work? Neither of you speak the language.” He cannot string two words together in any language other than English so this is a big thing for him. I remember my somewhat flippant rapid reply down the telephone was “No problema. Quiero reserva una mesa para dos personas por favour.” Which roughly translates as “No problem. I’d like to reserve a table for two please.” I imagined that this sounded impressive to my dad, but it is a Spanish phrase I have known off by heart for 25 years, along with a few others such as “Can I have a cheese sandwich?” and “Where is the bullring?”
All was fine until we arrived in Spain. I strolled up to the supermarket checkout, confidently knowing how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” and with a basic grasp of the numbers 1-100. I could impress by deftly handing out the correct change! However, the woman stumped me by asking if I’d like a bag! I stood there blinking stupidly whilst she expressively waved a plastic bag at me. Even my Spanish numbers let me down when my 30 year old student said that she hung out at ‘501’, a bar complex. Twenty five years ago I knew Spanish numbers in the hundreds, but looking at her dumbly and saying “I’d like to reserve a table for two” was unlikely to go down well with her, or my wife. It was way past time I learned some more Spanish.
I am not a natural linguist but I’m not all that bad either. My problem has been with the learning methods. After two years of school French, with an excellent teacher, I had four years with a series of three absolutely awful teachers. I switched off entirely. Somehow I scraped a pass in my exam but I am convinced that was down to the good first teacher, because I learned nothing after that. I did one year of Spanish at school and learned more in that year than in four years of French. The classes were totally immersive, not a word of English was spoken except to ask how it was said in Spanish. “¿Como se dice ‘can I go to the toilet, Miss’ en Español?” Since school I tried once more to learn Spanish when I dated a trainee Spanish teacher. I took myself to the ‘language lab’ at Warwick University to do a Spanish starter course, I slotted the video into the VHS machine, put on the headphones and watched as my ticket to fluent Spanish began. By episode three I was seriously struggling. At the end of episode five I gave up with severe brain ache, my days of formal language learning were over. At least that was until this past week when I discovered ‘Mi Vida Loca.’
In the BBC web archives I found Mi Vida Loca. What a revelation! A 22-episode interactive video story with learning sections for vocabulary, grammar and practice after each episode. I started getting up at 6am eager to see what was going to happen next and doing three episodes a day. One of the best things was that at 7am Lily would get up and join me and we would then go through it all again, with her controlling the mouse and saying some of the phrases. A five year old with almost no Spanish was as hooked as I was. I think the chance for her to get into the virtual world as an adult was thrilling for her. To order a glass of wine and have the waiter give it to her! Then pay for it by dragging the correct change onto the screen. Lily has picked up quite a bit now and her vocabulary is expanding at a greater rate than mine. Somehow Mi Vida Loca manages to seamlessly fit ordering food and drink, shopping for clothes, getting a bus, talking about the weather and even posing as someone wanting to buy a house into a gripping thriller story. I have both learned and re-learned so much Spanish in the last few days I wouldn’t know where to start to describe it. I am feeling buoyant and enthusiastic about language learning again and I hope I can continue this and leave Spain comfortable in striking up varied conversations with local people. I hope Lily feels better able to join in with Spanish kids in the playground. This she does sometimes, but there are times when the dreaded ‘language barrier’ creeps in. If she can overcome this, and even with a very basic grasp of the language interact to the full, it will be an extremely valuable education, difficult to teach in a formal school language class.
There is a test at the end of the course, I didn’t cheat. I should have scored more but my spelling let me down! ☺