Lost in Translation

Online blog of life in Barcelona for a English guy making a life for himself out here and trying desperately to have a good time, become fluent in Spanish, and most of all - not be constantly mistaken for a tourist!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Intercambio news

Had my first official intercambio language exchange last night, and after all the talk I’d heard about them being a thinly veiled disguise for a blind date, I was a bit concerned what would happen. Anyway, it seems I managed to find the one local who is genuinely interested in perfecting his English, so it was really cool in the end. He was a bit of an expert at these things and has done loads of exchanges in the past, so his English was truly excellent. He’d learnt it from Americans so his accent was incredibly strong, and he found it difficult to understand my common-as-muck northern English accent at first. His approach to the session was very official and proper, and he was very strict about splitting the time precisely between English and Spanish, but I’m glad I followed his lead in this because it forced me to make more of an effort to finish all my sentences in full, in Spanish and without resorting to throwing in English words unless I was in a complete dead-end. I’d warned him that my Spanish is bit ropey (which is true) but I think he took me at my word and was expecting it to be little better than Hola and Qué tal, so when we switched over into the Spanish hour, I immediately floored him with a knock-out blow of basic, but well formed sentences without even trying that hard. I surprised myself even!! He made a point of saying how pleasantly surprised he was, and that out of all the intercambios he’d done with English people, my Spanish was the best he’d come across!! I was amazed by this and thought he was joking, but he was deadly serious, so I immediately felt miles better! I’m still reluctant to class myself as anything above lower/intermediate, but it seems that I have some kind of “twin track” ability in that when I can talk in a relaxed and quiet setting, where I don’t feel pressured, and with someone who speaks nice and slowly, then my level is right at the top end of intermediate (almost advanced even!) and my sentences are well constructed, but when I’m out in the street with all the traffic noise, in a busy cafe, or trying to join in with the banter in the office, that’s when I get shot down in flames and understand nothing and can’t even put a simple sentence together either. Qué tonto!!! It’s confusing because I would’ve thought that the background noise and speed problems would only affect my ability to understand the other person, but it also seems to cause problems with my ability to speak well myself. Barcelona doesn’t know the meaning of the word quiet, so I’m just going to have to concentrate my efforts on doing more intercambios like this until I gradually drag my level up to the point where I can start to follow conversations in more varied settings. Either that or I’m going to have to bag myself a librarian to talk to so I can take advantage of the quiet surroundings!

We've arranged to meet again next week, so hopefully, they'll be more improvements then.


At September 27, 2006 10:20 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I received the exact same comment myself the other day, and I agree completely with different situations making it very hard or easy to chat away. I'm having a lot of difficulty at work saying anything useful at all, but one on one with a beer, and my life story comes tumbling out.

At September 27, 2006 10:32 PM, Blogger Lost in translation said...

Totally agree. Saturday night out with my Spanish friend was a non-stop rollercoaster of Spanish over a few beers, but today when the phone rang in work, I couldn't even think how to say "hang on a moment". I pass about a million little bars on my way to work in the morning, so I'm thinking a couple of "copas" will set me up for the day! (Assuming I can find my way to work after drinking them!)

At October 02, 2006 1:03 AM, Anonymous Stuart said...

I find it is not really the noise and distractions that make it difficult, but the social aspect of the situations you find yourself in when not in a casual one-on-one conversation.
As soon as you step into the "real world" there is the presure to speak faster, more correctly and on much more specific topics. Not only that, but talking to someone you don't know means you are unsure of how forgiving they will be...

Hence the social pressure of the situation, not the distractions.


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