Tag Archives: learning spanish

collins gem dictionary spanish, michel thomas spanish for beginners

5 Tips on How to Learn Spanish before moving to Spain

Learning a foreign language from scratch, as an adult, is a very difficult thing to do, yet something that is fundamentally important if we are to successfully integrate into expat life.

The range of variables that determine how quickly and how well one learns a language is vast. Younger adults, who are recently graduated from University and better acquainted with the core idea of classroom learning, are generally a lot quicker and better placed to apply themselves; they are already well aware of their own, personal learning styles. Older learners – generally speaking – take time to adjust to the learning process and become used to modern teaching methods.

But there are steps we can take before taking that leap into full-on, foreign language immersion, in order to prepare ourselves as best we can.

One: Know your own language

grammar2 e1393902753742 5 Tips on How to Learn Spanish before moving to Spain

While it is not strictly necessary to know the grammatical theory behind our own tongue, it most certainly helps; anyone who doesn’t know the difference between a past simple and past participle verb form in English is going to have a hard time differentiating the same thing in Spanish. Ask yourself how much you know about English grammar, and if all you’ve got is that a noun is ‘a thing word’, a verb ‘a doing word’ and an adjective ‘a describing word’, then you probably need to hit the books before taking on another language.

Two: Buy an audio-learning CD box set

total spanishmt 5 Tips on How to Learn Spanish before moving to Spain

Michel Thomas Total Spanish for Beginners: Newest Edition

If the thought of revisiting the theory of English grammar scares or bores you stiff then there are alternatives. For instance, my first six weeks in Spain were aided considerably by a popular audio-learning CD box set called Michel Thomas Spanish for Beginners. The teaching method employed relies entirely on learner autonomy and speaking practice, deliberately avoiding grammatical terminology and confusing rubrics. Michel – whose life history is utterly compelling – breaks down the language into its component parts and focuses on language building, one chunk at a time.

Crucially, the CD features two other learners – one rather good and the other annoyingly bad – who, as your virtual classmates, are with you every step of the way. The obvious difference in their aptitude is doubtless intended, so as to give you a standard to aim for and another not to fall below, though it does not feel staged in such a way (I’d imagine there a few cases of trial and error before they get it right).

If you are attentive and committed enough (and able to put up with incessant gum clicking), the method works wonders for your confidence. However, until you immerse yourself within actual, real-life Spanish, there is only so far you can go. I would highly recommend the box set, which is available on Amazon for as little as £7, to anyone looking to get a head start on Spanish before moving to Spain, though learners who prefer visual aids may not find it as useful. The box set is also available in eleven other languages.

Three: Make some Spanish friends

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They’ll be easy to spot this summer

Spaniards are everywhere, especially given the current woeful economic climate in Spain, so if you haven’t already got some Spanish friends, you won’t need to look very far to find some. The easiest and most obvious way is to just ask around; one of your friends is bound to know someone. Even better if you’re at University; there’ll almost certainly be some sort of Spanish society where fellow students would love to teach you some basics of Spanish. Spaniards are very proud of their language and I find that they are especially enthusiastic about it when they are in a minority. This method is obviously useful for learning some naughty words and phrases to equip yourself with too.

Four: Buy a Pocket Dictionary

IMG 2988 5 Tips on How to Learn Spanish before moving to Spain

Collins Gem Pocket Spanish Dictionary

This is something I neglected to do before moving to Spain, and I regretted it big time. I now live in Granada, where there are plenty of libraries that stock decent, up-to-date dictionaries, but initially I lived in a much smaller town where I couldn’t find anything suitable. The ones I came across were always either too big to carry around, lacking contextualised examples or inadequately cross-referenced. I went home at Christmas and picked up a Collins Gem Pocket Spanish Dictionary for about £6. It made a huge difference, and it still lives in my backpack (which I take everywhere with me) to this day, all dusty and dog-eared.

Five: Watch Spanish films with English subtitles or vice-versa

amoresperros 5 Tips on How to Learn Spanish before moving to Spain

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros

It’s best to start by adding Spanish subtitles to any English-speaking film you want to watch. This can be annoying at first, but try not to let it be a distraction, rather an aid in helping you become cognizant of the similarities between written English and Spanish. This may even benefit you on a subconscious level.

The next step is to watch Spanish films with English subtitles, though again, don’t allow the Spanish to go over your head, focusing instead on what’s being said and what you’re reading. This will help your listening skills. I’d highly recommend La Mala Educación (Almodóvar),  Amores Perros, Y Tu Mamá También and The Motorcycle Diaries, though there really are hundreds of brilliant movies to choose from. Maybe work your way up to Almodóvar though; his stuff can be very peculiar.

Finally – if you’re feeling up to it – perhaps have a stab at watching a Spanish film with Spanish subtitles. If you can manage that then you really are miles ahead with your Spanish before you even arrive in Spain.

Suerte!

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Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

I’ll tell you a secret: I am terrible at setting myself personal goals. Worse still, I am even more terrible at fulfilling them. I suppose this is because I tend not to actually write anything down, rather choosing to set them to one side in my invariably forgetful brain.

Since my official leap into the blogosphere I’ve come across various posts embracing this sort of topic, and in truth often found them to be a little too self-interested for my liking, but recently I think I’ve come to understand the usefulness of them. Being open about this sort of stuff not only serves as a continuous reminder of what you want for yourself but also invites valued encouragement. At least that’s the theory of it anyway. In practice? Well, let’s wait and see…

One: Study Spanish properly and pass an exam

manten la calma y usa el subjuntivo Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Highs and lows have been aplenty during my three-year tussle with Spanish – the highs generally featuring around May/June time when I reflect on another year’s progress (or when blind drunk and I am inexplicably able to speak perfect Spanish), the lows about this time of year, when I realise how much I’ve forgotten over the summer.

All in all I think I can be proud of how far I’ve come, though for all my efforts I’ve never actually gained an official qualification. At this stage one would be integral to my career prospects, so this year I’ll be taking on either the B2 (upper–intermediate) or the C1 (advanced) exam. That means el subjunctivo is going to be my new best friend for the next few months but hey, at least there won’t be any more lows.

bart y el subjuntivo Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Two: Learn another language

 french flag e1380126340360 Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

OR

croatia flag big Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

?

Meanwhile, I want to at least get to grips with another foreign language. During my recent month-long jaunt through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Hungary, I was reminded of my hunger to learn language – any language – and my unshakable frustration at not being able to communicate with non-English speaking locals.

So, it’s going to be either French (already ordered a copy of the Michel Thomas Beginner’s French audio box set) or Croatian, which is understood in most other Slavic countries and would be useful for when I return next year to fuel my Croatian festival addiction. Wish me luck.

Three: Visit ten unseen Spanish cities/towns

8212534564 aa3797405d b Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Salamanca (Source)

Spain is massive, and there is so much of it that I still haven’t seen. Essentially, I want to go everywhere, but that might be a tad too ambitious in just one year. Ten seems a reasonable figure – with Salamanca, Valencia and Logroño being the absolute must-sees of the list. Any less obvious suggestions would be most welcome.

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Vinyards in Logroño (Source)

Four: Get better at techy stuff

css template Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

With blogging comes the inevitable requisite to understand a thing or two about technology. I’m sure many a blogger out there can relate to this. Coding, for example, is just pure gobbledygook to me, and no matter how many times I trawl through WordPress.com’s support forums looking for say – how to make my font bigger or how to add a slider to my homepage – I can never figure it out even though the instructions are ‘super easy’. At times I think I’ve got it, but then I am plagued by doubt and worry that I will mutilate my blog into a permanently disfigured monster, thus, nothing ever changes.

 Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

Then there is HTML, ‘plugins’, SEO optimisation: all things I want to understand better. So I’m going to take an online course in web development, or something similar. I’ve done some research and found sites like this, but again, any other suggestions are most welcome.

 

Five: Be a better cook!

badcook Embarking on a fourth year in Spain: Five personal goals

One thing I really haven’t developed very much since coming to Spain is my culinary skill set. I’ve a few winning fares in my locker – the brilliantly simple tomate rallado for instance, or the timeless tostada de beans (joking) – but I think my problem is that there are just too many great cooks around me, wherever I go. I’m the sort of guy who is put in charge of nibbles or chopping carrots at dinner parties, and even then I am watched carefully.

I should mention, however, that I recently took on – and nailed – the classic Spanish Tortilla when couch surfing in Croatia. I was asked to cook something Spanish and this felt like the simplest yet most authentic option. So thank you Lauren of Spanish Sabores for your excellent step-by-step recipe, the success of which has spurred me on to add yet more Spanish sabores to my feeble repertoire of foodstuff.

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Tortilla (Source)

So, this year I’m going to either trade English classes for Spanish cooking classes, or – failing that – take on one dish at a time solo, using Lauren’s wise words and all the other marvellous Spanish foodie blogs out there, such as Anne’s Gambas & Grits. Tostada de beans will take some beating though.

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The Transition

I’ll never forget my first night in Spain. It was the start of a new chapter, and one that I had undertaken completely by myself. Initially I had been excited, ready to throw myself in at the deep end. Hours into my new life though, this excitement had abruptly transformed into a sinking feeling of loss and isolation. Gripped with doubt and anxiety, I didn’t sleep a wink. It was the loneliest night of my life.

Over the next few days, I came to realise that everything and everyone in my life had become part of my past, and although there would inevitably be visits and reunions of sorts down the line, I was essentially staring down a path filled with uncertainty for the very first time: I’d graduated, I’d done my gap and I’d done a TEFL. This was it. Adulthood. Career. Responsibility. Life.

keepcalmenglish The Transition

Granted, I was glad of the heat – leaving all that rain and gloom behind was gratifying to say the least – and bursting to learn and thus be able to speak Spanish, something which I had naively assumed possible in under one year, but at that point neither of these considerations could cheer me up.

To make matters worse I couldn’t understand anything. It was culture shock, pure and simple. And I had been so sure I’d take to Spain like a duck to water. I’d lived abroad in Canada for nine months before, but that was with English-speaking people in an English-speaking country – Spain was evidently going to be a much tougher nut to crack and this duck was flapping, quacking and sinking fast.

Meeting people was the biggest struggle; I couldn’t speak Spanish and was completely dependent on other newbie English teachers, many of whom I had to pretend to get along with in order to have a social life. In fact, if I hadn’t been enjoying my new job so much I could quite easily have given up and gone home in those first few weeks. I didn’t though. I stuck with it, and eventually I was rewarded for my hardiness. I was learning Spanish, speaking Spanish (albeit the same Friday-night drunken ramblings on most occasions), soon making new friends and still loving the job. By March, I was totally settled, and ready to explore more of Spain. I was happy.

Now, almost three years down the line I am temporarily back in Britain – London, more specifically, where I am busying myself as an intern for a certain tabloid newspaper. It’s quite the transition, Granada to London, particularly after six uninterrupted months of the comparatively quiet Spanish life. Yes there’s the stuffy tube, relentless traffic and piss-poor weather (though I should point out that this last week has been glorious) but there’s more to it than that.

‘Reverse culture shock’ is what Google’s calling it. Frankly, this probably isn’t what it is; I’m not in shock, and I went through the same transition last year. So no, definitely not that. I am, however, feeling increasingly alienated from my life in the UK, which I am only ever reminded of when I come back. Things change, people move on, get new jobs, get married, have kids, and it’s weird for me. I don’t lament the ‘good old days’ or any of that nonsense, I just feel as though my life in the UK is stuck on pause, and each year I want to spend less time here so I feel like I’m progressing again.

cultureshock The Transition

Essentially, I’m worried that my being in Spain, which I love, is driving me away from home ­– something I didn’t sign up for. But now, after more or less three years in Spain, it’s honestly beginning to feel a lot like home, and I’m not ready to abandon that yet.

But that’s a good thing I think. And everybody else I talk to about it seems to agree.

Anyhow, this post wasn’t meant to be all maudlin and soul-baring. Nor is it, I hope. I was supposed to give a few light-hearted tips on how to re-adjust to your homeland. Oh well. I’ll save that one for next time.

Expats, have you ever experienced culture shock or ‘reverse culture shock’?

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fiona flores watson, scribbler in seville, spain, josh taylor

A Spanish Inquisition: Scribbler in Seville

spanish inquisition A Spanish Inquisition: Scribbler in Seville

I’ve been to Sevilla many times before, and despite my reservations on the subject of its much lauded feria, I must confess I am secretly enamoured with the Andalusian capital. In fact, had it not been for the job I was offered before coming to Granada, I would’ve almost certainly set up shop in Sevilla following my first and rather flaky year in El Puerto de Santa María.

It’s a lot bigger than my beloved Granada, so is naturally more difficult to familiarise oneself with. But I like it that way. Each time I go, I invariably discover something different, be it another bizarrely constructed building or some jaw-droppingly delicious tapa bar tucked clandestinely down a side street. Last time I visited I was taken to a luminous outdoor club on a river island. I can’t remember its name, nor how I got there, but I distinctly recall enjoying myself a fair bit.

Someone else who enjoys themselves in Seville on a much more regular basis is Fiona Flores Watson, of Scribbler in Seville, and this month’s interrogatee for my Spanish Inquisition series. In the interview, Fiona reveals what its like to be an expat in a city with a profoundly yet decreasingly inward-looking culture, one or two of her top tips/pet hates and just how fruitful intercambios can be…

Name: Fiona Flores Watson

From: Essex, UK

Occupation: Freelance journalist, blogger, editor, content creator and social media consultant

Time in Spain: Nine and a half years

About Blog: Scribbler in Seville is about living in Spain’s most romantic city – its esoteric fiestas, multi-layered history, and quixotic inhabitants; unusual activities, and fun things to do for families, both in Seville and within easy reach of the city. It’s also about being a mum to two Anglo-Spanish kids (my husband’s from here), and a bit about expat life.

granada A Spanish Inquisition: Scribbler in Seville

Fiona at Granada’s Alhambra Palace

Questions:

 1. Complete this sentence:

“Spain is an invigorating and frustrating sort of country, filled with sunshine, great tapas and good, cheap wine. However, there is too much corruption and not enough decent cake.

2. Why did you move to Spain? Why Seville?

I was living in Ecuador, and wanted to be closer to my family in England, but still speak Spanish. Someone told me Seville was small, beautiful, historic and very hot, near the beach, and with the best fiestas in Spain. I was hooked.

3. What is one of Seville’s best kept secrets?

The Cartuja – a 15th-century monastery and ex-(English-owned) ceramics factory, on the other side of the river from the centre, with a contemporary art centre, cafe and beautiful gardens – cutting-edge video in the chapel and installations in the refectory – I love the jumble of history, religion and art. Shady walks, culture, and a haven of calm. Also, the artists’ corrales – communal courtyards with small studios and workspaces, in the Macarena area of the city. They put on flamenco and music performances – seriously under the radar.

 4. How would you describe the culture there? What type of people tend to thrive, and what type don’t do as well?

Culture here is deeply, profoundly Sevillano – it is 90% inward-looking, though that is slowly changing. For many Sevillanos, their city is the best place in the world, and there’s no need to go anywhere else – best food, best fiestas, best art. To get on in Seville, you have to take their unwavering belief in their own city’s superiority with a kilo or two of salt, and join in by paying your own homage. If you don’t, they will be offended. Otherwise, if you like hot weather, going out for tapas and being sociable, you’ll do fine. There are all sorts of tribes in Seville, from the pijos (posh people) to the trendy-bohos – you’ll find your niche.

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Seville’s Cathedral (Source)

 5. What have been (briefly) the best three experiences you’ve had since moving here?

I had a high old time with friends at the Jerez Feria the other week, in the Tio Pepe caseta. Intravenous sherry all afternoon – marvellous. Any day at the beach with my kids is fab – swimming in the sea, building sandcastles and not being glued to my iPhone. And seeing inside the Alhambra for the first time was pretty special. Just the most beautiful, romantic, fairytale place I’ve ever been to.

 6. What has been the worst? And how could it have been avoided?

Various instances involving appallingly bad customer service, often by phone – rude, uninformed, unhelpful staff who make me want to put my fist through the nearest wall (my blog post on this topic got some interesting responses).

 7. How much Spanish could you speak before you moved to Spain? What’s the best way to learn?

Quite a bit, after a year living in Ecuador. They say the best way to learn is to get a girl/boy friend – I met my husband within three weeks of arriving, and he doesn’t speak English; failing that, an intercambio with a Spanish person, where you speak half the time in English and half in Spanish – I know a few people who’ve ended up with theirs.

 8. Money is a thorny issue for any would-be expat. Do you have any tips on working, saving, banking etc?

Never go food shopping when you’re hungry; always check your bank statements for sneaky hidden charges; and use second-hand websites – as recommended by you in a recent post! I also do clothes swaps with friends.

 9. Finally, what’s the best photo you’ve ever taken in Spain? Tell us about it!

Always very subjective, but I like this one I took last week on El Rocio pilgrimage. I love taking pictures of fiestas here – usually sunny, vibrant atmosphere, bright colours, clapping hands, expressive faces, big smiles, magnificent beasts, picturesque vehicles. Noone does fiestas like the Andalucians.

group 3 A Spanish Inquisition: Scribbler in Seville

El Rocio Pilgrimage

Click here for a read of Fiona’s much commented on ‘Nine things I’ve learned while living in Spain’ post, which you may find either hilarious or mildly offensive. That’s why it’s so good.

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My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

online resoures My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

We had a power cut the other night.

I hate power cuts, and especially when they happen at night; I am invariably prevented from doing anything that I want to be doing (if my laptop battery is low, which is often) and I can’t boil the kettle or use the hob, therefore am unable to make myself a cup of tea, which causes the sort of anguish that no man should ever have to bare.

As a kid, I’d jump for joy if ever there were a power cut, and then rush off to the loft to unearth some dusty board game (usually Risk or Monopoly) while Mum sorted out the candles and Dad waited in a dark corner with the torch held under his chin, ready to click it on and petrify me when I emerged with the board game underarm.

On this occasion, my instinct reaction was very different. I swore, sighed, got up (still swearing), wandered off to fetch a candle and then began reading a book. Of course I like reading books, but not when I am forced to do so and generally not at night – it’s much more of a daytime, terrace, coffee and sunshine thing for me.

Inevitably, the lights flickered back into life within moments of having sat down, and my untimely, darkened interlude was over almost as abruptly as it had started. I drifted insentiently back to my computer and settled down into my swivel chair to resume my evening of mindless web browsing.

And that’s when it hit me – just how reliant I have become on the internet as a tool not only for casual distraction, but for everything I do. Before coming to Spain, I hadn’t been so unremittingly consumed with it. Facebook, uni stuff, fantasy football league and one or two news websites were just about the extent of my web browsing.

Evidently, that’s all changed now, and after a bit of a ponder and several cups of Yorkshire’s finest, I’ve drawn up a list of the online resources that I deem to be categorically invaluable to me, as a young (barely), working, travel-fervid expat here in Spain.

If you live under similar circumstances or have done before, then perhaps you’ll be inclined to agree with some. If you’ve never called yourself ‘expat’ but are thinking about it, then I assure you, ALL of the following will be hugely helpful in the settling in process – I only wish I hadn’t had to find (most of) them myself…

#1 Couchsurfing

couchsurfing logo 1 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

Fair enough, you don’t have to be an expat to become a ‘couchsurfer’ – the worldwide social networking site is for anyone, anywhere – but if you’re living away from home, you’ll invariably be surrounded by new and interesting places that you will no doubt want to investigate on a regular basis.

Couchsurfing is the perfect way to go about doing this. You save lots of pennies and meet lots of very friendly, local people, who are likely to show you around town or at the very least send you on your way with an elaborately modified map.

What’s more, couchsurfing also offers expats the opportunity to meet other, like-minded people in their own cities. It wasn’t until my impromptu trip to Pamplona last March that I realised the potential benefits of attending regular meet-ups here in Granada. Before that experience, couchsurfing had only ever been a service I occasionally needed whilst travelling or offered to other travellers. Now I attend the Granada forum’s intercambio every week and meet new people from all over the world. It’s a huge part of my life.

#2 Car sharing websites

carsharing 2 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

In a recent post about SOS 4.8 Festival in Murcia, I alluded to the Spanish car-sharing website amovens.com. This particular site is probably my favourite, as it never seems to let me down. I’ve also used blabacar.es and carpooling.es, albeit each on just one occasion, but both were equally as positive experiences.

To give you an idea of the savings I make using these types of sites, consider that a one-way train ticket to Seville from Granada costs €29 and lasts just over three hours. Now consider that I made that same journey in almost half that time at a third of the price. I’ll say it again…

There is of course that element of risk involved, but I’ve never heard any horror stories to put me off. Girls, understandably, are and ought to be more cautious, but like couchsurfing, many of these sites function on a reference-based system, so that any would-be passengers may give their would-be drivers the onceover before making arrangements. The golden rule is that you do not fall asleep; this is both rude and dangerous!

amovens2 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

#3 Tusclasesparticulares.com

It took until my third year here in Spain to stumble across this gem of a site. Whether you are planning to stay in Spain as a short-term or long-term expat, you will, inevitably, at some point begin teaching English. It’s the easiest job to find and with a bit of luck you’ll be able to find a decent academy who treat their staff well. I am fortunate enough to be able to count myself among the few English teachers here in Granada who are paid well, on time and most important of all – legally. Others aren’t so lucky, and often find themselves scrapping for hours and desperately trying to seek out private students.

Tusclasespartiulares.com is a service that makes this issue a hell of a lot simpler. Students – of any language – and language teachers alike may create a profile and post short ads detailing their needs/services etc. Users can instantly see prices, hours of availability, relevant experience and so on.

Earlier this year, I created my own profile and received around 15 messages within the first week. Some came from private students and others from directors of local academies inviting me to an interview for a part- or in some cases full-time position. It’s a surefire way to get the moneys rolling in.

logo redes My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

#4 Expatforum.com

This site provided me with answers when I needed them most.

Last year, I went through hell and back trying to replace my lost NIE at Granada’s oficina de extranjero (complainy post in the works). Those of you who already live in Spain will almost certainly be aware of just how infuriatingly slow and tedious Spanish bureaucracy can be. I was desperate for a new certificate so that I could legitimately claim el paro (extremely generous unemployment benefit) over my jobless summer, but ran into countless stumbling blocks along the way.

expat top 10 april My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

Hours of frantic Google searches led me to expatforum.com, where I was at last able to read something concerning the matter in English and, after registering as a user, send beseeching messages to the senior, Spanish bureaucracy hardened members. Eventually, I resolved my issue by requesting and subsequently being granted a temporary residence card, but I very nearly had to cry in order to get what I wanted. I didn’t cry, but probably would’ve done had it not been for some expert guidance via the Spain page on expat forum.

#5 Second-hand / flat-share websites

I’m guessing sites like this exist in just about every country by now. The US has Craigslist and the UK have spareroom.co.uk, gumtree.com and flatshare.com. All of them work amazingly well. Here in Spain, you have to look a bit harder for the better ones. I use easypiso.com (branch of easyroommate.com) and loquo.com to find my digs.

flatshare My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

It’s just chaos in the mornings…

My first year using easypiso.com yielded a moderate apartment with excellent flat mates (except one, asshole) and the second pretty much the opposite way around; I now live in an incredible, modern, three-floor house with a terrace, patio and soundproof basement. However, my housemates and I do not get along, and I recently decided that, despite how in love I am with the house, the people with whom I live are more important, so I’ll be enlisting the services of easypiso or loquo once again this coming June.

I should also mention that loquo.com, as well as segundamano.es, are fantastic sites for buying second hand stuff. I’ve bought a phone, a bike and various other bits and pieces, and met with the seller in person every time. Waaay better than ebay.

  My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

#6 Wordreference.com, NOT Google Translate

Thanks to wordreference.com, I am able to trick people who I only speak Spanish to on Facebook into thinking that my Spanish is absolutely flawless. I can use words like ‘diluviando’ or ‘quisquilloso’ or (personal fave) ‘zarrapastroso’ and pretend as though I didn’t just look it up in two seconds flat. Better still, each translation yields two, three or even four uses of the word in context, so you are able to choose which word suits what you want to say best.

The same cannot be said for the erroneous Google Translate. Often, a search for a single word will turn up numerable results, with no contexts given as examples. If an entire phrase or paragraph is copied, pasted and translated, the result is even more inaccurate, as complex grammatical structures somehow seem too much for Google’s gargantuan brain to deal with.

 My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

I must admit, since I downloaded the app for my smartphone I have perhaps become ever so slightly overindulgent. Beforehand, I used it as a quick fix whenever I was reading or writing in Spanish online. These days, it’s whenever I am momentarily unsure of how to say something, when in actual fact I could probably wrest it out of me if I just mulled it over for another minute.

#7 Twitter

twitterlogo My list of invaluable online resources as an expat living in Spain

No list of invaluable expat resources would be complete without giving an honourable mention to Twitter now would it? Frankly, I’d be lost without it.

Since finally giving in and joining shortly before Christmas, it has become an almost exclusive news resource for me. There is, however, a lot of distracting, pointless dross that when clicked on swallows up a good chunk of my day. And that isn’t good.

I can’t keep up with it to tell you the truth, but I do like retweeting things I find funny or interesting. I’d retweet this if I hadn’t already tweeted it.

God that’s the most incredibly twattish-sounding thing I’ve ever said on here.

*Another useful resource that breaks information down into chunks such as Employment, Work Permits and Visas and Healthcare in Spain is Whichoffshore.

Expats, would-be expats and er, ex-expats! What are your most invaluable resources in your adopted homeland? Do pitch in!

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mistakes, language, spanish, learning

Mistakes. And why they should be cherished.

We all make them. We all wince with embarrassment the moment one inadvertently escapes our lips, or as we gradually fathom in the aftermath of making one just why exactly asking for a ‘coño de chocolate’ from an ice-cream vendor is so funny to everybody else standing in line. We curse ourselves afterwards, and spend the next few seconds muttering under our breath what we should have said in a slightly deranged and neurotic way, until we get it right.

“Idiot. Stupid, feckless idiot. How can you get that wrong? UN CONO. UN CONO for god’s sake!”

This clanger was indeed one of my own, back in my early, early days in El Puerto de Santa María. If you speak a little Spanish, then you’ll probably have already pictured the scene quite accurately. If you don’t, then let’s just say that I picked a highly inappropriate moment, and establishment for that matter, to request a female sex organ of a darker variety. Yeah. Now you probably get the gist of it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I then went on to say

“Estoy tan embarazado”

This was neither the right word nor an actual word, as embarazada is exclusively feminine (notice the final ‘a’) and, contrary to logical translation, actually means ‘pregnant’ ­– not ‘embarrassed’. So not only had I asked for a chocolate-covered youknowwhat but I’d also declared that I was prenatal afterwards. The latter of these, as I have recently come to learn, is not an uncommon mistake. Take this unlucky chap for instance. And Fiona, of Scribbler in Seville knows only too well the resulting agony of such blunders.

mistake2 Mistakes. And why they should be cherished.

But once you’ve made a fair amount of them, the pregnancy embarrassment starts to wear off a bit. In fact, with a little time, mistakes actually become the best reference points for learning a language, whether hilarious or not. If the making of them is contextualized and dealt with appropriately, then the chances are that that mistake, if corrected, will never be forgotten, nor repeated.

mistakes Mistakes. And why they should be cherished.

This is a mindset I encourage in my students on an almost daily basis. Most of them don’t quite get it yet, but then making a mistake in a classroom filled with intently listening strangers is a very different matter. Adults, unsurprisingly, get the most hung up about it – nobody wants to look a fool. Kids, on the other hand, couldn’t give less of a shit. And I love it. Evidently, they love it too.

“Profe, profe! Puedo ir al baño por favor!?” pleads one as he wiggles before me, his crotch grasped by both hands.

“In English please.”

“Can I borrow your toilet please?”

I sigh.

“Yes”.

Two nearby girls overhear and burst into fits of giggles, before summoning the strength to repeat the error to the rest of the class, who then join in with the giggling. The perpetrator has long since departed, but upon his return is met with yet another wild outburst of laughter, which I unsuccessfully attempt to put a stop to, for fear of having to deal with a crying child (not one of my strong points as a teacher).

So you can imagine my delight when the child, upon realising his error, laughs instead of cries. Actually, he laughs more than anybody, and goes on to repeat the mistake over and over again. This pleases the others, and “Can I borrow your toilet please?” has now become something of a running joke, which I have given up correcting.

I realised after several tries that there was just no point. They were going to say it no matter what, purely to get a reaction out of their classmates. But that’s absolutely fine by me, because now everyone knows why it’s funny, and what the actual sentence should be. There’s no need for correction, because the mistake was contextualized and subsequently remembered by not just one student, but the whole class. Even if it has now become the most irritating thing in the world.

If you’re a language learner, do you find that making mistakes is the best way to learn? If not, what is?

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