Immersing Into Castilian Spanish

Acquainting Ourselves With Castilian

We’ve been in Madrid for two weeks now and we haven’t been wasting anytime. Between finding an apartment, attempting to meet new people, and planning a few Spain trips and French getaways, we’ve been keeping ourselves occupied. Still, we’ve not forgotten our goal of improving our Spanish. From day one we’ve been mesmerized, somewhat perplexed, and often down right annoyed with the Spanish accent. It’s hard enough to learn a new language, but changing up the accent while we’re still learning has not enhanced our comprehension.

Though Spanish originated in Spain, we’ll always be of the opinion that Latin American Spanish is the ‘proper Spanish’ just as American English is the ‘proper English’. Alright, we’re not that egocentric! But having grown up listening to Mexican Spanish does not make this understanding of Castilian Spanish easy. I mean, what happened to the ‘z’ in ‘diez’? What is this ‘th’ sound they keep lisping? And don’t get me started on other parts of Spain where they feel it’s appropriate to drop letters entirely. ‘Llamado’ becomes ‘llama’o’ somehow? Is there no respect for the ‘d’ and its very helpful pronunciation?

I’m not trying to hate on Spain’s accent. I am, however, expressing my frustration with the confusion it’s causing my poor ears. We stumbled through the language while touring through Chile and traveling with our family in Peru earlier this year, but at least we could manage the accent! Enough with the pity party though. We’re here now and like Ricky Ricardo might have said to Lucy had she moved to Spain, we “got some ‘mersin’ to do!”

Retiro Park in Madrid

Retiro Park in Madrid

Immersion Into Castilian

Firstly, we brought Spanish review books with us to Spain to do some self-study. Auston is a lot more disciplined about this than I am and to my dismay his vocabulary is becoming larger than mine. We didn’t move to Madrid to read study guides alone in our apartment though so it was important to that find people to speak with. However, we also didn’t want to pay for a Spanish tutor or classes. So a few days after arriving we checked out a meetup group for language exchange at a bar in Madrid. It was mostly for people wanting to exchange English for Spanish and vice-versa, but all languages were of course welcome.

We almost gave up on this event midway not feeling very social, but we stuck it out a while longer and that’s when we met Beatrice. She’s a madrileño (Madrid local) studying English and French. We agreed that practicing a new language in a bar was difficult and decided to meet for coffee later that week. We spent the first half of the conversation helping her with English and she spent the second half of the conversation helping us to not butcher Spanish. We’re continuing to meet 1-2 a week for a couple hours to help us all improve. It’s a fantastic arrangement because it’s FREE! Plus Beatrice is very sweet and helpful at not only teaching Spanish but also about Spanish culture in general. It’s reassuring to know we have the best resource, a local, for those “I’m a foreigner and don’t understand what’s going on” moments. And yes, there are many of those.

To supplement these lessons I’ve also started a 6 week internship at a hostel this week. The arrangement is supposed to be that I receive a free bed at the hostel in exchange for part time work. However, seeing as how we have an apartment, I didn’t see myself choosing a hostel bed with strangers over my bed at home with my husband. Essentially, I’m working entirely for free since I get paid diddly-squat. It’s not like I’m not getting anything in return though. It’s a chance to meet new people, practice Spanish and gain experience in the hospitality business – all just as valuable as a paycheck except they don’t pay the bills. Everyone at the hostel speaks to me entirely in Spanish so I understand about as much as I get paid: diddly-squat. Thankfully, they’re quite helpful and speak slowly to me so I can keep up with the conversation as much as possible.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Frustrations With Castilian

I think there are two things I hate most about learning a new language. First, it’s that even if you understand most of the words people are saying in a conversation, just missing a couple key words can leave you lost entirely. I’m always thinking, “What did you say about the girl, the car, the building and killing?” Is it simply that you’re mad and are going to metaphorically ‘kill’ the girl if she doesn’t park the car in the building? Or is it more serious and the girl killed someone when she crashed the car into the building? My reactions for these scenarios should be very different so damn those keywords I miss!

Secondly, I hate when I don’t know simple vocabulary. At the hostel the other day, a man came up to the reception desk and asked for ‘la fregona’. My coworker told me ‘la fregona’ was in the kitchen and to go get it for him. “Sure,” I thought, “no problem!” Expect, what’s a ‘fregona’? To explain, he began making hand gestures that I didn’t quite follow. After a few awkward moments I decided that it was either one of those hand-grips to work out your forearms or a wet towel that needed to be wrung out. A quick trip to the kitchen determined that ‘la fregona’ was in fact a mop.

The part that makes me laugh at myself is that as I’m slowly sounding out the unfamiliar word aloud, “f…r…e…g…o…n…a…” I imagine what I must sound like if it were English, “m…o…p…” Such a simple word can create so much confusion! At the very least it’s a word I’ll never forget. Auston and I just continue to remind ourselves that we always know more Spanish today than we did the day before. Unless ‘today’ involves killing brain cells by drinking wine or watching any sort of reality television. Then we definitely know less.

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View from our apartment

View from our apartment

Have you ever studied a second language as an adult? What were the challenges for you? And do feel free to share any funny stories from your experiences in the comments!

13 Comments on “Immersing Into Castilian Spanish”

  1. Adam says:

    That’s great that you’re doing an internship at the hostel! Seems like a good way to try to pick up the language and meet cool people.

    1. Yea, the internship is going pretty well, Adam. And you know hostels, it’s such a chill environment with the most interesting people. It’s been pretty fun so far. It’s just funny to feel like that weird foreign guy who doesn’t always know whats going on because of the language gap.

  2. Patrick Ryan says:

    It’s funny that you find Castilian Spanish strange because i’m the exact opposite! I grew up in New Zealand, and I was taught to speak with a ‘proper’ Spanish accent! That is to say, not a South American accent! My mum (who is fluent in Español) was adamant that I had to learn to speak properly, she was actually really against other Spanish accents! LOL Not in a vindictive way though, just that she’s British so she believes the Spanish spoken in Europe is akin to British English — It’s the language in it’s purest form, the other ones are just poor substitutes. Personally, I enjoy all Spanish accents! Also, I just adore Spanish because it’s so similar to English! I’m sure at least half of the vocabulary is the same or similar and the grammar is near identical! LOL I hope you guys enjoy your stay! Great blog btw!

    1. Haha. Thanks for the great comment Patrick! It’s great to hear from another perspective. Honestly, I never thought I’d even want to learn Castilian. In my Spanish classes at school, we were made aware of it, but never had to learn the specifics. And considering that most of the Spanish where I grew up was Mexican Spanish in particular, I viewed Castilian as a little silly. Now that I’m learning it, it’ll be interesting when I go back to the States or Latin America. I’m sure my accent and vocabulary will be all sorts of a hot mess! But my love affair with Spain makes it totally worth it. :)

  3. Sam says:

    Nice one! I actually had the opposite experience with Spanish as I learnt Peninsular Spanish at school (that’s what’s taught in Europe) and was at first struggling with the different vocab and accent in south America!

    Having your co-workers at the hostel speak to you on in Spanish will be great for you. Good luck, and keep at it!

    1. Thanks Sam! I think we’re getting the hang of it now. But it’s not going to happen over night unfortunately. Sure wish it would though!

  4. Sofie says:

    I’ve studies Spanish llinguïstics and in our first year we had to study the differences between the different dialects. So hard!

    1. I’m sure that got confusing Sofie! But that’s great that you studied it. It would be helping us out now if we had. :)

  5. Kent @ NVR says:

    I’m distracted by that view from your apartment. Not bad!

    So, yeah, we’ve been in a multi-year struggle with Spanish. It all started when we taught English in Ecuador to people who knew NO English – and we knew no Spanish. It was traumatizing.

    1. Thanks Kent.

      Wow, that experience sounds… like you said, traumatizing! Well we definitely understand your struggle with Spanish. But at least we keep trying, right?

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