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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  1. I love your analogies of yours and your pupils' language learning!

    The vocabulary that you are referring to may seem archaic or "high language" in English after translation. Spanish is a mainly Latin language with some Arabic. English is mixture of Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian languages, French.... In our day to day language we use more Anglo-Saxon words, while the Latin words are often the more scientfic, more archaic and "higher" language. Compare, for example, goods vs chattels, room vs chamber and greetings vs salutations. English is a very rich language because of this. Spanish, however, only has the Latin versions of the words, and these are the words which are in everyday, common use. Hope this goes some way to explaining!

  2. Fine one to talk about letters and e-mails! hahahah
    Whenever I have to write to anybody who I don't know I can't help feeling odd when starting with "Dear..." (Querido) Dear?!? Really?!? address someone who is a complete stranger to me? I really think that our "Estimado" is much appropiate, given that I can't love someone who I don't have a close relation with, however I may appreciate them. (Lo estimo, pero definitivamente NO lo quiero/amo)
    Concerning your sign-off... Well, "Yours sincerely"= (Sinceramente tuyo) sounds simply mental. That would only be acceptable to end a letter to your wife/husband... And even then it would sound completely old-fashioned.

    I promise, whenever I have to send a CV, for example, and a cover letter, I blush when writing "Dear" and "Yours sincerely" to a complete stranger. It almost feels like if I were promising "something else" in return if I finally did get the post.

    I discovered your blog a few hours ago and I'm really enjoying it! It's always interesting to discover how others see us. :) I'm a Spanish girl just arrived in England.

    1. Fascinating to hear your take on this, especially how 'Dear' and 'Yours sincerely' sound to you. I can only wonder what impression my language makes on others, unless they tell me. You should blog your observations on England/English. I for one would find it really interesting. Thanks for your observations.
      I hope my home country makes you feel as welcome as I feel here.

  3. I'm a professional translator (I translate from Spanish, Catalan and Greek to English) and I think everyone is missing the point here. English and Spanish are not supposed to be parallel languages, they are completely different, and people should not expect them to be equivalent, or even to correspond to each other. They should also not expect to find exact equivalences in one language for an expression/phrase in the other. The structure of each of these languages is completely different, and the differences should, in my opinion, be respected. They are separate entities, both beautiful in their own way. I've been living in Barcelona for the last 9 years.