Peru Travel Teachings No 1: Español

7 11 2009

After 16 months of sweat and hard graft, yesterday was my last day at work, prompting a partially obligatory leaving party, in which there was ample supply of Pisco, a popular Peruvian grape brandy best enjoyed with ginger ale, granadine, lime and ice, or in the renowned Pisco Sour cocktail, which is Pisco blended with ice, lime, syrup and topped with cinnamon. Quite delicious, and the pride of Peruvians, who have actually outlawed any other drink by the name of Pisco to enter the country in an attempt to stop the Chilean version creeping north, an ongoing and bitter dispute between the pair of old rivals: no sh*t.

I’m digressing. During the despidida (farewell party), I became aware just how far my Spanish has come in my time here, when I was asked to make an impromtu speech by heckling work companions, mostly Spanish speakers. I managed to thank everyone for the oppertunity, for how great they’d all been to me, talked about how much i’d learned and how much I had enjoyed my time in Peru, and i think everyone understood. Not bad for a gringo.

My Spanish now is probably about a hundred times better than the non-existent version I spoke when I first got here, but i would need to be a thousand times better to call myself fluent. It is a massive language, and words regularly pop up that I have never needed to use before, while the conjugation of more complex grammar is still very difficult.

Immersion definitely helps; it was certainly much easier to learn when i was living in a house full of Spanish speakers, and had no choice but to pick up words to communicate, while learning became a bit more difficult when I moved into a house of Australians.  And having a Peruvian girlfriend in the meantime has definitely helped me to keep the Spanish up, although her English is so good that Spanish sometimes needs to be sidelined.

There was a brief period when I was doing internal communication for my company, which needed to be in both English and Spanish, and so this helped me to pick up some written grammar.  The same position required me to correspond with job applicants who, can you believe, hadnt even bothered to learn English? And I even gave the odd job interview in Spanish, though my role was usually reduced to asking the applicant what sports they practiced.

Now i have the confidence to hold my own in a conversation, book a bus ticket and even order a pizza, but i still have problems with my accent and listening, because people speak very quickly and use alot of slang words. But then I had that problem in Aberdeen sometimes, too.

To master a language is a gradual process, built upon over several years. I have probably been too impatient at times when I havent understood something, and have learned that even in my lifetime I will perhaps never be perfect at Spanish, presuming of course that perfection is possible in any language. And I have to bear in mind i didnt even take a class.

So: immersion + girlfriend + work responsibilities + daily use in practice = I have become proficient in Spanish (at least thats what the CV says).





4 responses

8 11 2009

On firday I had a big Pisco Sour party at my place as well. So we were kind of drinking together on your farewell and my beeing far away…

Yeah Spanish… I remember that. What a battle to learn it and what a fight for not loosing it again! I am really looking forward to your storys on Peru, for sure so many old thoughts will come up again!

Have a good time

8 11 2009

Hey Senor Si,
Enjoy your remaining travels in S. America!
big sis

8 11 2009

Trust you don’t have to leave out anything that might worry your Mum xx

27 11 2009
Diana Olano

You’re Spanish is great, Simon. I still say that I understand you better sometimes in Spanish than when you speak English. 🙂

Hope you’re having a great time in.. Ecuador? Colombia? Where ever you may be, have fun and stay safe!

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