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Escuela Delengua, Granada

A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

I’ve lost count of the amount of classes, teachers, textbook and online practice exams that have contributed to my learning of Spanish.

I’d be lying if I said that these approaches haven’t helped– I owe a lot to the traditional method –but after three years it all becomes a bit of a bore. There’s only so much sitting quietly as the teacher explains yet another reason for using the subjunctive I can take, so I quite happily jilted Spanish classes a few months ago when I felt I could take no more.

Last month, however, I was invited by Escuela Delengua to participate in a week-long course, here in Granada, which offered an alternative learning approach– and here’s the best bit –outside of the classroom.

Fun Spanish! Yes!

The course content– environment and sustainability –appealed to me too. Although it’s not something I’m usually too proactive about, I still do my bit: recycling, cutting carbon emissions, taking 6-minute showers (is that quick?) etc, so I was sure I would find the course rewarding for both my Spanish and personal growth.

Further reading revealed that the course would involve educational visits to areas of the Albaicín barrio that I had never been to before and even a trip to La Cortijuela, the Sierra Nevada’s botanical garden. The schedule aligned perfectly with my regular working hours so accepting the proposal was a no-brainer.

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Granada, Spain

Our group was small– six in total –and someone was nearly always sick, late or lost, so we received close attention form the participating teachers and guides throughout the duration of the course.

The week began with a fascinating tour of my own hood, the Albaicín, with stop-offs at numerous but now disused Aljibes– traditional and canalised water depositories that were used during the Moorish era. We learnt about what materials were used to make them, cal (clay) and argamasa (mortar) for example, and the genius thinking behind the construction process. The day was capped off with a visit to Granada’s Centro de Interpretación del Agua– once the nucleus of the city’s water distribution network and now a museum festooned with a beautiful huerto a huge and extremely flowery garden.

On Tuesday we were taken to a presentation about the ecological damage in the Vega de Granada– a green area within the city –and various methods that have been initiated to help curb it and prevent even more. Then we were shown around a laboratory with a couple of massive microscopes, the purposes of which were explained in great detail, though I have to admit this part went straight over my head. I was far more interested in the ecological goods store we visited afterwards, where I stocked up on organic, dried apple and cinnamon cereal, ginger and lemon biscuits and my favourite Granadina cerveza– Mamooth –which until then I had no idea was brewed ecologically.

 

It rained on Wednesday, meaning our trip to the Jardín Botánico de La Cortijuela in the Sierra Nevada was regrettably ruined. Not that we knew it until we arrived, when the rain turned into cats and dogs. Juani, our guide, did his best to animate us and we managed about an hour before retreating back to the van but nevertheless took away some fascinating new knowledge of the Sierra Nevada’s botanical past.

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La Cortijuela, Sierra Nevada, Spain

The mountain range was formed by the collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates during the Tertiary Period, and is really an extension of the Rif mountains in Morocco. Years after the continents parted, during the last ice age, more plant species emmigrated south in order to escape the colder climate in the north. When the climate grew warmer again, these new species were able to survive by taking refuge in the mountains. As a result, there are now around 2,100 plant species in the Sierra Nevada; more than are found in the whole of the British Isles. Typical then, that I can only recall one without researching them– the Barberry Plant, which smells like bubblegum.

On Thursday morning we visited the Diputación de Granada for a talk on renewable energy sources and how, if proper legislation were passed, we could save a colossal amount of energy through ‘cleaner’ and cheaper methods. The building showcases one such method: a solar powered installation comprised of 72 panels, generating around 10-15% of the building’s power.

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The Solar-powered energy source of la Diputación de Granada

Friday was my favourite day by far. We began with a visit to the University owned Carmen de la Victoria, another outdoor garden filled with orchards, flowers and fountains. Next we were shown around a typical Moorish home, also in the Carmen style, by the Gitana lady who lived there. It was fascinating to learn how they still lived with the same insulation mechanisms as their ancestors did hundreds of years before them.

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Later in the afternoon we visited another lady’s home, this time one with a cave in it! This is not an uncommon household feature in Granada’s Albaicín barrio, and this one had been restored from ruins and converted into a bedroom and even a bar. I would love to say that I lived in a cave. It would be incredibly cool. Literally, as the temperature inside stays at around 17-18ºC all year round due to the clay coating of the rocks.


To finish the week in style, we, along with all other classes at the academy, were invited back to Delengua Academy for a tapa and wine tasting evening. The event was hosted by Granada-based José Mendez Moya, a sole wine trader who produces wine using only ecological harvesting and fermentation methods. Luckily for us, he brought about 40 bottles of the stuff with him, spanning five varieties. All were divine and 100% organic, and the fermentation process of each was explained in detail before being poured, though I must admit my concentration level began to falter as the night wore on…

 

By the end I had chatted to just about every other student and teacher in the room, and reached the same conclusion with every one of them: Delengua was a fantastic academy and not only taught Spanish in a fun way but went the extra mile to ensure students had a great time outside of class too.

Many thanks to Manuel, José, Juani and José Mendez for their contributions to a week that taught me more than a few neat things about my own backyard!

Delengua offer a range of intensive Spanish courses, ideal to get you off to a winning start if you plan to stay in Spain for a while. Courses last from one week to twelve months and take place all year round. Click here to find out more information.

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Street Art, Nightlife and Sean Connery Spanish in Lisbon

“¿Hay mash bolshas?” I asked tentatively at the supermarket checkout. The cashier’s response– a mere look of bemusement rather than any actual words –suggested I had got something wrong. She dug another bag out from beneath her counter and threw it to me apathetically. Of course I’d got something wrong. People speak Portuguese in Portugal, not this bizarre, Sean Connery-like Spanish that I had suddenly started spewing. What was wrong with me? Quickly filling up the extra bag with Muesli and cherry jam, both of which I was quietly excited about, and collected my receipt. “Graciash”.

This was worrying.

Unless I count two or three fortnight-long family holidays in the Algarve in my prepubescent years– which I don’t –I had never been to Portugal before. And if I did count those occasions then I still wouldn’t be able to say I’d been to Lisbon– somewhere I’d been desperate to visit for as long as I have lived in Spain.

We spent four days, taking our time and properly getting to know the place; any less than three and you just don’t get the full package. That first day, save for a few more Sean Connery Spanish outbursts and (cough) a tense hour spent watching football in an Irish pub (cough), went rather well.

Lisbon’s central train station and metro stop sits by the coastline at the foot of Bairro Alto, and was just one stop away from ours in the Alcântara area. Moseying along the promenade towards the enormous and tourist-brimming Plaza del Comercio was a perfect way to get things started. And then the first of what were to be many, many pastry feeding frenzies and a wander up to the gothic Santa Justa Elevator was the perfect way to round the afternoon off.

(Note: there is nearly always a huge queue to ride the elevator to the very top, which costs €5, but entrance is free to the slightly lower caged section if you make the 15-minute uphill walk.)

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Plaza del Comercio, Lisbon

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View from the Santa Justa Elevator

We spent our next day exploring the magnificent Sintra, a national park area dotted with 19th-century Roman architecture and gorgeous royal retreats. Hop over to Cheeky Jaunt to read all about it.

Street Art

Back in Lisbon, we set out to find some of the epic street art we had seen pictures of prior to the trip. Fortunately, we had stumbled upon a very useful blog post that included a Google Maps screenshot of the best areas to find street art marked on it. This, however, turned out not to be as accurate as previously thought, after two hours of fruitless searching. Eventually though, our persistence paid off and we were rewarded with works from Os Gemeos, Vhils and various other urban artists scattered around the city.

 

Our AirBnB rented apartment was a stone’s throw from the famous April 25 bridge of the Alcântara neighbourhood, so-called after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, which came to a head on April 25 . Just beyond this bridge is a long wall, covered in street art referencing the revolution. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and the adage certainly holds true here; each image was incredibly powerful, and way more poignant than anything else we had seen, either in Lisbon or Granada.

Given that we happened to be visiting the capital less than a week before the 40 year anniversary of the revolution, the wall was probably more suggestive of past hardships than it normally is.

 

Click here for a more in-depth post on Lisbon’s street art.

Nightlife

There is only one place to go in Lisbon if you’re looking for an authentic taste of its nightlife: Bairro Alto. It’s a bit of a climb if you’re not already staying there (most of the hostels on Hostelworld and HostelBookers seem to be located here) but well worth the legwork.

There are easily over a hundred bars and restaurants battling for space in this cramped barrio of the city, and plenty of boutiques in between. The atmosphere is buzzing and prices are generally more tourist friendly the further up you go; we found plenty of familiar looking ‘Erasmus’ bars flogging suspect mojitos and large draft beers at €1.50 each, though we plumped for posh dark beer and minty fresh mojitos at more stylish bars like Majong and Pensão Amor (the old whorehouse– emphasis on old) towards the lower end.

Since it is legal to drink in the street in Lisbon, providing it is from a plastic cup, Bairro Alto is never particularly quiet nor clean at night, though it was always cleaned up by the morning when we were there. We ate at several restaurants in the Bairro Alto/Baixa area but my highest recommendation– if you crave curries as much as I do –would be Restaurant Natraj on Rua dos Sapateiros. Reasonable prices, generous portions and speedy service, though they call Rogan Josh ‘Rogan Gosh’ here for some reason. Wasn’t happy, but I still had it, and it was delicious.

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There is a much more cosmopolitain feel to Lisbon than what we are used to in Granada, where I have begun to tire a little of the provincial attitude. As a holiday destination, it might just be unbeatable. Could I live there? That depends if I can swap snowboarding for surfing– something I’ll be hopefully getting to grips with in Valencia this weekend.

Vamosh a ver…

Have you visited Lisbon? What did you think?

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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

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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

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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


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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

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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

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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.


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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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Expat habits at home

As an expat, the business of settling back into ‘normal life’ back home  – whether on a temporary or permanent basis – can be rather problematic. Naturally, the longer you’ve been away the harder this process will be, and personally, I’ve never been out of Britain for longer than seven months (a Christmas elsewhere is unthinkable).

Even so, I feel as though after 3-4 years’ experience living abroad, despite the periodic homecomings in between, I’ve learned a thing or two about this business of ‘re-adapting’ yourself to life as it was.

In my last post, I discussed (with myself) the difficulties in accepting change at home, and trying to keep a hold of things so as to prevent total alienation. Today I’m going to keep it cheerful, by relaying you all with some of the unexpected and quietly amusing oddities I’ve encountered back home since I moved to Spain in 2010. Perhaps a few of you can relate!

One: Talking

‘Pleases’, ‘thank-yous’ and ‘sorrys’ are, needless to say, rather commonplace here in jolly old England. The other day at Victoria Station somebody rolled their suitcase over my toes as he crossed my path. I said ‘perdona’. Two things obviously wrong there: the first, that I shouldn’t have been the one apologising – but we Brits simply can’t help ourselves – secondly, I said it in Spanish, and this happens a lot. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve accidentally let slip a ‘gracias’ in a newsagent or a ‘por favor’ in a bar or restaurant.

Depending on how good your second language is, in my case Spanish, these language gaffes can also extend further into your English language repertoire. For instance, there have been occasions on which I’ve caught myself saying things like ‘It didn’t give me notice that…’ or ‘it costs me (to do something)’, arising from the grammatically dissimilar Spanish translations ‘no me di cuenta de que…’ and ‘me cuesta (hacer algo), meaning ‘I didn’t realise’ and ‘I find it difficult to…’ respectively. I have to say it’s a bit embarrassing when it happens; friends often cock an eyebrow and I suddenly realise my error. But it’s actually quite funny, and a sign that you’re at a good level.

Two: Eavesdropping

If your return home involves living or staying in a place where there are bound to be lots of foreigners who speak your second language, like London for example, you’ll quickly find that you rather helplessly begin to eavesdrop on their conversations. On the tube, train, bus or just when out and about, it’s impossible not to listen in the moment you hear that familiar tongue­ – especially when it is in an unfamiliar context. I keep thinking I’ll catch out a Spanish person slagging me off for no particular reason, but it hasn’t happened yet. Nor will it, of course.

On the downside you sometimes have to put up with inane chatter in English that you don’t want to listen to and, unlike when in Spanish, this cannot be blocked out quite so easily.

eavesdropping isnt just a modern day occurrencenbsp Expat habits at home

Three: Eating

Meal times are notoriously late in Spain, and if you’re an English teacher who works until 21.45 every weeknight then they tend to be even later. So when it comes to re-adjusting to regular, early evening (or late afternoon as it’s considered in Spain) meal times back home, you may find that you’re just not hungry enough to feast on your Mum’s signature shepherd’s pie, or the enormous portion of greasy fish ‘n’ chips that your Dad brought home as a special ‘welcome home son’ sort of gesture. Obviously you do eat it – you wouldn’t want to go upsetting dear old mum and dad now – but I’ve found this is harder to re-adjust to than the other way round.

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For all those who’ve never heard of Shepherd’s Pie, this is it. Mmmmmmm…… (Source) (mmmmmm…sauce)

Portion sizes are all back to front in Spain too. Breakfast, for most, tends to amount to nothing more than a slice of toast dripping with oil or mushed tomatoes, a piece of fruit, a glass of orange juice, a coffee or nothing at all. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day; some people can spend up to two hours preparing it and businesses regularly close for anywhere between 2-3 hours for lunch during the week. Dinner, in Granada at least, typically consists of either two or three tapas, an omelette, leftover lunch or just a quick something before bed – not our idea of teatime at all.

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Average Spanish Breakfast…

Four: Going out

Three years in Spain hardens your threshold for alcohol intake and your staying out power. The routine for a standard night out is more or less the same as anywhere else: pre-drinking at home, then maybe a bar or two before continuing on to a club. The timetable for these stages is, however, drastically different. I find that pre-drinking tends not to get underway until around 11-12 o’ clock and clubs don’t fill up before 2-3am. Thus, most nights out – if you’re hardcore enough to go the distance – last all night. And I mean all night. In fact, going home before 6am is generally considered bad form.

So when it comes to going out back home, wherever that may be, there is inevitably some difficulty in trying to slot back into the old routine. However, providing that you didn’t go overboard on the earlier-than-usual pre-drinking, your friends will be mightily impressed with your newly developed partying stamina. Just remember one thing though – there’s no churros con chocolate waiting for you at the end of the night back home… (sad face)

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Late night o’ clock!

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Spanish Breakfast

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A Spanish Breakfast (my version anyway)

This is what I make for breakfast most mornings. It looks time-consuming but after four or five gos you get surprisingly good at it. These days it takes me about fifteen minutes to have it all laid out and ready to eat on my terrace. It’s delicious:

Grated tomato, garlic and oil, with bakery-fresh bread and manchego cheese for dipping, and fresh fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice to boot.

I’m not entirely sure what constitutes the classic Spanish breakfast but I’m guessing this comes pretty close.

Where are you in the world and what’s your country’s typical morning meal? Maybe you’d like to post your own picture to your blog and link back to this post? Just a thought… J