By James Fulford Talbot
When you arrive in a country and, on day one of a three month stay realise that pretty much no one speaks your language, you know that you have a problem… The solution? Stay in Medellin for a month to learn more Spanish.
After 4 months on the road, concentrating on anything grown-up was going to be a challenge and as I share many of the characteristics of Joey from friends when it comes to learning a language, this was going to be special.
Due to a small lack of organisation, week one was a bit of a slow start and we only managed to book 3 one hour sessions with the wonderful Diego and Angela from the ABC Spanish School, who were incredibly patient with us as we stumbled our way through the basics. After 3 hours, despite their best efforts, I could only focus on what I didn’t know or understand and felt incredibly stupid. Besides being patient teachers, it turns out that Diego is a rather gifted guitarist and we spent our second Saturday night in the rather nice Café Cliché listening to a fantastic live performance. Week two saw us start lessons in the Elefun Spanish School, which has structured learning and other activities to help budding students. We signed up to 4 hours a day for three weeks, and for weeks 2&3, for an additional hour of one on one coaching each day. 5 hours a day… Our heads really, really hurt.
The teachers are great. Young, bright, with a great sense of humour and a teaching style that we could work with. Even with all that, I did at times find myself having flashbacks to French lessons at school when I was completely and utterly lost and just wanted the lesson to end as quickly as possible. I was very low at times and by Friday of week one needed to find solace in 2 for 1 Mojitos. That happened on week 2 as well. Week three had a party at school. Maybe it is just a Friday thing.
J and I were in a class together and only on week two did we have another student in class. He was a charming and patient Swiss who endured the J & J ‘banter’ that our friends will know well with good grace. For the other two weeks it was just us and Jennifer, our teacher, who without doubt understands the English language better than I do and helped us understand Spanish as much as helping us to speak it.
Mostly J & I played nicely in class. Mostly.
Much fun in Elefun
What happens when you forget that there is a masculine and feminine version of the Spanish for teacher
Elefun also offered various classes and experiences. We went along to a ‘understanding chocolate’ class where we learned about good and bad chocolate and the negative effect the big companies (Nestle etc) have on poor farmers of developing countries, got to eat local food and had a free dancing class. Just so you know, I already understand chocolate pretty well…hence the running.
The dancing lesson was hilarious. J and I have all the coordination of a Conservative government negotiating a Brexit deal and I think we found the experience far funnier than we ought to have. The best thing is that the man is most definitely the lead… and J loves that. At times it was less dancing, more wrestling…
Our final ‘event’ was a fiesta to celebrate the immaculate conception and in Colombia, this means people coming out on to the street, lighting candles, drinking, dancing and cooking traditional food. We did a fair amount of drinking, I did a little dancing, we mostly missed out on the eating and those who have seen my Facebook photo will have seen it got a little messy for me. It was a lot of fun.
So, at the end of 70 hours of Spanish lessons, at least 15 minutes of Duolingo a day (it’s a rather fantastic language training app) and listening to bi-lingual podcasts on my runs, how are we doing? Whilst the fact that we still don’t know lots and lots and lots is undeniable, we have to admit we have come along way. We can express ourselves in most scenarios and even managed to get a little irate in Spanish with a mobile phone provider that was being less than helpful. The challenge remains listening. The locals speak Spanish in the same way a Scottish man on speed speaks English. The words can spew out into the air around us and we grapple to make sense, sometimes managing to give a coherent reply, and at other times say things we know how to say, regardless of the question asked…