Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Things They Say... (Part 1.) Un Cordial Saludo...

I've been learning Spanish during the five and a half years that I've lived here. It hasn't been easy, but then I haven't actually used the study methods that I remember using when I was a student (albeit not of languages), now about thirty years ago. People say it's easier to learn languages when you're young. Believe them.
Another factor which has slowed down my learning is the fact that I teach in English all day long. So, while the seven year-old Spaniards in my class are immersed in English, so am I. The children (unwittingly) don't help either. They seem to pick up English so quickly, remember it almost effortlessly, that my oh-so-slow progress seems oh-so-dishearteningly-slower in comparison. Hang a line of towels out during a shower of rain and some of the drops will miss, some will bounce off, but in the end, the towels will all get wet. This seems to be the way the children in my class 'soak-up' English in my lessons. I, on the other hand, feel like a sheet of plastic flapping in a thunderstorm; I get enthusiastically drenched, but by the next day, I'm bone dry.
Having said all that, I do learn a few things from them in class, especially when they occasionally(!) 'lapse' into Spanish. It's funny what you discover about the Spanish language when this happens.

It's noticeable how 'formal', almost archaic, Spanish sometimes sounds. "¿Ees obligatorio, I go out?" Manuel asks me one cold, December morning. By 'cold' I mean the children's definition. To me, it's a bright, sunny, (although slightly 'chilly') day. The thermometer in my car said 14 degrees on the way to school, so by now it must be nearer 18 or even 20. Can you imagine a seven year-old in an English class asking if it was 'obligatory' to go outside? Highly unlikely in the schools I've taught in back home. 'Ohhh, do I have to?' would be much more common.

"Pablo, heem ees castigado en espanish," María tells me with barely disguised glee, as I pass the frazzled-looking Spanish teacher exiting my classroom. I can't even imagine a member of staff in the UK saying they'd 'castigated' a naughty child. 'Told-off' would be more usual, although in my previous school (Norfolk) 'wronged' was an occasional (very regional) alternative.

The children in my school here are a pretty placid lot. There's not much scrapping in the playground. When it does get a bit heated, the Spanish equivalent to 'Calm down,' or 'Keep your hair on,' is '¡Tranquilo!' (Pr. Tran-key-low). It sounds even more ludicrous if I imagine the year fours back home shouting 'Tranquil!!' as they face up to each other over a disputed off-side decision.

Even the parents sometimes contribute to my education. I love it when they send me e-mails. I'm usually addressed as Estimado Señor Dean, which fills me with a foolish amount of pleasure. I'm also delighted at the end as I'm usually offered 'Un cordial saludo,' as a sign-off. I wonder if the English-speaking Spaniards get as much pleasure when I use 'Dear' and 'Yours sincerely'.

There's another slightly quaint usage I've noticed on the television, when I'm watching the football. The ball is usually called el balón or la pelota. Every so often, however, to spice things up a bit, the commentator will describe Messi dribbling with el esférico. I've never heard Clive Tyldesley roaring that Rooney has thumped the 'sphere' into the net.

It can have its uses though, this slightly old-fashioned collection of English look-a-like and sound-a-like words. On the bus one day, returning from a trip to the theatre, I heard a shout go up from the back seat. I only caught one word but it told me all I needed to know...
I won't post a photo with this entry. I hope you don't mind...

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Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Spanish lottery, ONCE bitten...

At Xmas time, even the BBC usually finds time to run a piece about Spain's el Gordo lottery. El Gordo ('the fat one') captures headlines around the world. The annual Xmas draw (run by Loterías del Estado) is held on December 22nd and (it seems) has all of Spain tuned in or turned on to hear schoolchildren sing the numbers as they are selected in a day-long ceremony. The three billion euro prize fund attracts huge numbers of players. Factories, offices, sports clubs, it seems as though everyone has a stake, often as part of a work-based syndicate. The Spaniards even make their gambling habits 'communal'.
But while el Gordo usually makes the headlines, due to the huge amount of money to be won, Spain has another, lesser-known lottery story, which deserves our attention.
As I entered my local centro de salud (health centre) the other day, I greeted the ONCE lottery ticket-seller with a cheery, "Hola." Then, I took a snap decision. I stopped, and bought my first Spanish cúpon de lotería (lottery-ticket).

Well, it was the 11/11/11 draw, which the TV adverts had been plugging all week, and it was a good chance for me to practise my Spanish with the ticket-seller...

ONCE is a rival lottery to Loterías del Estado, and it's their story that I'm going to tell. Let's start by getting the pronunciation of ONCE sorted out. If you're an English-speaker, forget your English. Try saying 'on-say' while stressing the 'on' part and lisping the 'say'. That's better. Now, let's see what it means.
Once is the number 'eleven'. But ONCE has a different meaning. It's an acronym for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, which translates as The National Organisation of Blind Spaniards. It's the Spanish equivalent of the UK's RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People). But that's where any similarity between the Spanish and the UK organisations ends. For while the RNIB is best know for its work offering support and advice to blind and partially sighted people in the UK, ONCE (while performing similar functions in Spain) is undoubtedly better known for selling lottery tickets and giving employment to its members.

Founded in 1938 (during Franco's dictatorship) to aid the increasing number of Spaniards blinded during the civil war, a decision was made to award ONCE the right to run a national lottery, and benefit from the profits. Its green kioskos and walk-about ticket-sellers are now national institutions. And due mainly to ONCE's involvement in the lottery administration, the unemployment rate of Spain's blind people is zero. In the past, blind people were often reduced to the role of beggars. Franco's legacy in Spain may not be a source of much national pride, but the decision to award the lottery to ONCE has certainly turned out to be something which modern Spaniards can be proud of.
I can't help feeling that John Major missed a trick in 1993 when his government awarded the licence to run the UK lottery to Camelot (a consortium of companies including Cadbury Schweppes). Despite the money pledged to 'good causes', I always found buying my lottery tickets in the local newsagent or off-licence, to be a slightly tawdry affair, smacking of a desperate urge to 'escape' from the rat-race with a bag of Hula-Hoops and a million pounds. 
Back here in Spain, as I chatted to the partially-sighted seller outside my local centro de salud, I could sense his own feelings of inclusion and worth as he offered me advice regarding which tickets might be lucky, and explained how I would go about claiming my prize... 

My new friend outside the centro de salud offers advice and information (and Spanish practice).

And, ¡sorpresa, sorpresa! (surprise, surprise) I'm a ganador (winner). The last number on my ticket matches the last number drawn so I win... 5 euros, exactly what I'd paid for the ticket in the first place. (Top prize for this draw was eleven million euros).
So what do I do with my prize money? Well, I have another chat with my new friend outside the centro de salud and decide on two, 3 euro Cuponazo tickets for the following Friday. He's helping me with my Spanish practice, I'm another friendly customer chatting in the November sunshine.
Isn't that what they call, "Win, win"?

 A punter tries his luck at an ONCE kiosco near Valencia train station. The advert on the side boasts, 'ONCE ticket. You win, we all win'.

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Sunday, 4 December 2011

Ready for battle...

Here's a Spanish tradition I heartily recommend. It's often called the 'Batalla de Flores' (flower battle) and usually starts with a parade of floats through the town centre. The floats are intricately decorated with tissue-paper (masquerading as flowers). They can be extremely complicated and colourful, but that's only half the fun...

When everyone has had enough of parading...

Sacks, huge, great, plastic sacks full of paper confetti appear from the backs of the floats and the town transforms into a multi-coloured snowstorm. Enough confetti for a South-Korean mass wedding is thrown about the place.
The TV will be there again and the municipal roadsweepers will be out in force later in the evening.

It's a truly stunning display of community spirit and littering. Everybody comes out to see it.
Well worth a visit if you hear of one in the offing. And don't be shy. If you're on the streets, you're fair game.
So... THROW!

If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.