Languages

Madrid

Cybele Palace (City Hall)

This weekend I finally made the trip to Spain’s capital city! I’ve technically been to Madrid airport during a flight stopover, but that definitely doesn’t count as visiting Madrid for real, so this was my first time and I was really looking forward to it.

I got a 5 hour bus from my sleepy town to the big city. 5 hours may sound like a long time but I’ve become quite used to bus trips now, and it’s cheap, and I listened to a really good podcast (Serial, I’d highly recommend it) so it was a pretty good journey.

Madrid is a big place and with only two days I obviously couldn’t see everything. However, the centre is quite compact and with Emmy (my friend and Madrid expert) by my side, I managed to see a lot in just one weekend.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

Puerta de Alcalá

Puerta de Alcalá

Palacio Real de Madrid

Palacio Real de Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

The temperature was about 23 degrees celsius and it was gloriously sunny so we had a great time wandering around, stopping frequently for frozen yogurt – my favourite. On this visit we made the most of the weather and stayed outside, however I’d love to go back and explore some of Madrid’s many museums and galleries (El Prado in particular) so a return trip is definitely on the cards…

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The joys of spanglish

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My friends and I, all language assistants here in Spain, experience mistranslations and language-based errors on a daily, if not hourly basis. Fortunately, we have each other to to confide in rather than having to endure the embarrassment alone. I thought I’d share a few of our stories here as a way to remember them in years to come, it’s always fun to re-live these moments.

Disclaimer : most of the following anecdotes involve Spanish native-speakers making mistakes with their English. I am by no means mocking their attempts, in fact I’m 100% certain that I have said equally inappropriate comments in Spanish without realising. I can only hope that I’ve provided similar amusement in return…

The adult holiday

I give private conversation classes to a couple of the teachers at the school, in one of them we were discussing holiday destinations. My pupil was talking about Portugal and persistently pronounced the word ‘beach’ as if referring to a female dog. If you insert that word into the following monologue “Yes I love Portuguese beaches, they are very beautiful and I try to see as many as I can during the summer. This year I will visit the beaches in the south, they are hotter and more appealing to me” You’ll have some idea of how the conversation sounded.

The plumbing disaster

As previously mentioned, I’ve become too familiar with the local plumber this year due to various heating/water related apartment problems. My plumbing vocabulary is quite lacking in Spanish and phone conversations with Antonio are always confusing to say the least. I recently tried to explain a leaking shower head without realising that the literal translations of ‘shower’ and ‘head’ are not applicable together as they are in English. In my panic I said ‘my head is leaking’ and even worse ‘I am leaking’ before eventually getting the point across. I get nervous during phone conversations in English so it’s hardly surprising that it all went horribly wrong.

The inappropriate soundtrack

English music is popular in Spain and, at a breast cancer solidarity event in October, various tunes were blasting in the background whilst we all celebrated the success of the day’s activities. A cancer survivor was on stage bravely telling her story when, in the most emotional part of her speech, a new song began to play. Unfortunately, this song was Enrique Inglesias’ ‘Tonight I’m loving you’ the explicit version (which replaces ‘loving’ with a much cruder verb). The song was in full flow and the audience were tearfully clapping along as they listened to the lady thank everyone for their support. A bad song choice if I ever heard one. Fortunately I was one of just two people who understood the lyrics. Ignorance is bliss…

The class room faux-pas

My friend Gavin was assisting in a lesson about Folk Music last week. Unfortunately for him the teacher alongside him persistently mis-pronounced ‘Folk’ so that it sounded much like the word in Enrique’s explicit song. He tried to subtly correct her by over-enunciating the word himself and by the end of the lesson she was saying ‘fock music’. A slight improvement then.

The constipation question

Comically, ‘to be blocked up’ as in full of cold/flu translates in Spanish as the verb ‘Constipar’. This is already a recipe for a communication disaster. During these chilly months I’ve been told, by various Spanish colleagues keen to practice their English, “Megan, you look so constipated today!” due to my red nose or watery eyes. I’ll never get used to this and I experience the same moment of shocked humiliation every. single. time.

I’m excited to see what the next four months will bring, more misunderstandings I’m sure. I’ll keep you posted!Untitled

Christmas is coming!

photoIt’s fast approaching my favourite time of year. Next week marks the beginning of December which means it’s time to put up Christmas decorations, open advent calendars and listen to Christmas songs without feeling guilty! I should probably admit that my flatmates and I put up our Christmas tree over two weeks ago. There was definitely logic behind the keenness; we had a month left until our flights home so we thought it’d be nice to start our own version of advent to countdown our departure. Also, Christmas trees are great for the mood, as is tinsel… and Michael Bublé.

It’s strange being in Spain at this time of year, especially since I’m used to London at Christmas – which is pretty spectacular when it comes to festive decorations. Living in Durham last year was also fantastically christmassy; we had an illuminated cathedral, real snowfall and none other than Joe Mcelderry, of X-factor ‘fame’, officially turned on the Christmas lights! Here in Zafra the whole Christmas thing is a lot more subtle. There are a few half-baked window displays and some lights but it just doesn’t compare to Britain. There are no wreaths on houses, no town Christmas tree and the very few lights that are up were turned on quite unofficially one tuesday morning. Sadly no Z-list geordie celebrities were involved…

Due to the distinct lack of festivity I’ve been seeking alternative ways to get into the Christmas spirit. If I walk for about half a mile along the dual carriage way (there is a pavement for the concerned parents reading), I get to experience the wonders that Lidl has in store (scuse the pun). Lidl, if you’re not aware, is a haven of cheap vegetables, german-branded biscuits and packaged leisurewear. What I’ve also discovered is that here in Zafra, it’s the only decent supplier of mince pies, Christmas puddings and santa hats within walking distance of mi casa.

For a lot of people this nonchalant approach to festivity is probably quite refreshing. Not for me. I’m someone who anticipates the arrival of Christmas as soon as my birthday ends…in May. You can safely assume that I’m monumentally excited to land in London in a few weeks time. I’ll finally be able to experience the crazy shoppers and  dramatic decorations without having to set foot inside a german supermarket to do so. I am fully ready for two weeks devoted to present-giving, parsnip-roasting and penguin-advert watching. Only 20 days to go!

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Two months

befunky_artwork.jpgSeeing as I did a one month update, I thought I should write a little piece to mark the milestone of two months in Spain.

While the first month was busy, exciting and a bit overwhelming, this second month has been much, much calmer. Aside from my trip to Cordoba (which you can read about here, here and here), I’ve stayed in Zafra most weekends. Basically, us language assistants only received our first month’s salary last week, so until now we hadn’t really been in a position to splash the cash on multiple weekend excursions. Having said that, we’ve had fun exploring the countryside around here, visited some local restaurants and, due to the change in temperatures, spent many cosy evenings in the apartment.

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On Halloween we had a mexican night, because, well why not? Due to budget-airline luggage restrictions we all travelled with minimal clothes and, as a result, costume options were quite limited. Fortunately for me this apartment came with a sombrero hidden in one of the cupboards, so I threw on my aztek scarf (which doubles up as a blanket) and voilà, a costume! We had fajitas and mojitos – it was great.

Apartment-wise, we had an technical issue last week; waking up in complete darkness without electricity of any kind. It doesn’t get light here until about 8.30 am, so we had to get ready by torchlight – goodness knows what I went to school looking like that day. After mild panic I called up the electrician and he came pretty quickly. All was sorted by the afternoon, thank goodness.

School has been going well. In one of my classes the students are putting on an English play. Due to my English speaking ability I’ve been lumbered with the job of director. It seems that the teacher has decided to play an observatory role and leave me to it. It’s quite fun though, I pretend to know what I’m doing ; I mainly correct pronunciation and shout ‘project your voice!’ every few minutes.

I’ve also picked up a lot of private lessons. I now do eight a week, which is great for the bank account. I’m also getting to visit a variety of houses in Zafra! My favourite lesson is a conversation class with the natural sciences teacher Juan. He’s about sixty and does Iron man competitions, hand-gliding and yoga in his spare time. He’s a complete hippy and I aspire to be just like him when I’m old. We have similar food tastes and this week he baked me a loaf of rye bread which was delicious. People here really are the friendliest.

The month of December sees a weekend away to Barcelona and a trip home for CHRISTMAS. I am beyond excited for both. Happy Sunday!

The photos above: 1. A visit to Córdoba 2. Charity walk for Breast Cancer 3. Autumn leaves in Zafra 4. Beautiful sunsets on an evening run 5. Halloween fun with my flatmate Emmy

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10 things I’ve learned whilst living in Zafra

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  1. The sentence “I’ll meet you by the bull ring” is both common and acceptable.
  2. If you decide to leave the house at siesta time you’ll develop a new affinity for Will Smith in ‘I am Legend’. There are no people, anywhere. It’s creepy.
  3. Each week your food shop will cost the grand total of eight euros and seventy cents. Each week you will feel surprise and smug satisfaction.
  4. It’s crushingly disappointing when your day of errands is put on hold because it’s a national holiday and EVERYTHING is shut. No food in the fridge? You’ve got 99 problems and hunger is most definitely one.
  5. Going for a run in the countryside comes with multiple trip hazards including freely roaming chickens and rogue cattle.
  6. You must repeat your name slowly and phonetically when meeting new Spanish people. You must then allow them to refer to you as “chica” because they simply cannot pronounce it.
  7. You will soon realise that whole town knows each other and everyone is related to everyone (mainly due to large families in which no one leaves Zafra, not so much due to incest).
  8. Skype is a wonderful thing.
  9. Speaking English attracts persistent staring. Do I have three heads? Is there toothpaste on my chin? Nope, you’re just foreign.
  10. Speaking English equals private lessons and extra cash. You’ll pay me to chat in my native language? Don’t mind if I do…

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Hello Autumn

The cold weather has come to Zafra. When I say cold I mean that the temperature is no longer 30 degrees; it’s dropped to about 14, but this change occurred in the space of two days and no one was prepared.

You’d think a polar vortex had hit Spain. In the streets the (woollen) gloves are out, I’ve seen multiple bobble hats and last season’s Zara scarves are making all kinds of appearances. At school the playground is deserted, the students are occupying the corridors and the teachers are despairing. You can just about hear the exclamations of ‘que frio!‘ beneath the layers of snoods and baklavas.

If you think that’s extreme youScreen Shot 2014-11-05 at 21.54.30‘ll be impressed to hear that my flatmate Whitney’s school have resorted to serious cold-prevention techniques. Their staffroom now features a round table with a heated blanket as a table cloth; the teachers sit huddled around it with their legs underneath in a cave of warmth.

For me, a Durham student, it’s not that cold. However, before coming to Spain I was lucky enough to spend Summer in the south of France. I returned to England for a few weeks but before my tan had the chance to fade I’d packed my bags again – I’ve therefore had five consecutive months of sunshine! As a result, my trusty tartan coat hasn’t seen daylight since April and I’m enjoying wearing it after all this time. The colder weather is quite a novelty in general; it makes home seem closer, cups of tea taste sweeter and I can finally wear more layers. Naturally my bed is also cosier, which isn’t such a positive when my alarm goes off… and we might have to start paying heating bills soon, but for now I’ll enjoy the change. Not having to worry about sweat patches whilst teaching teenagers is definitely a bonus.

I’m off to put my slippers on and listen to some Michael Bublé, it’s not too early for Christmas songs is it?!Untitled

Monday Musings #9

Teaching is hard work. Secondary schools in particular require a lot of patience.

The first years in general are really keen, bordering on over-keen, but their excitement is encouraging and it makes for rewarding lessons. However, as you move up the school you come across the rebellious teenage years; the arrogance, the attitude and the eye-rolling.

I’m aware that I sound like a middle aged woman, but I feel that immediately after you exit your own moody teenage phase you realise just how frustrating it is for all non-teenage members of society. That’s not to say I was ever unruly myself (I was pretty much the opposite), but I do remember lessons at school in which we were collectively disinterested and just plain lazy.

Once you emerge from the traumatic teens, it seems that the students reclaim some of their original enthusiasm; the 16-18 year olds are really great. They realise just how important their studies are (I literally sound like a parent) and they actually put in some effort.

To combat one excessively difficult teenage class I have taken to throwing a small furry rabbit (toy) at each student in turn. The rules are simple – when you are in possession of the rabbit you have to talk. It’s much like the conch in Lord of The Flies except that this time the idea is to avoid the eerie silence that follows whenever I ask a question. If I remember rightly Lord of The Flies involved a situation in which there was too much talking. And they lived on a beach…

Fortunately, there’s one boy who shares my interest in the Pretty Little Liars TV series. It’s often tempting to ditch the rest of the class and gossip with him about the latest episode, but I think that would be considered unprofessional. Anyway, I’m learning as I go along – relying on initiative, experimentation and the odd bit of bribery. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!