The week of my first lecture

This week I filled in for a professor and gave my first ever lecture as a professional scientist to undergraduate students. Two hours of talking at second-year geography students about the climate of Australia. I now officially feel like an academic!

Although I get nervous (who doesn’t), I usually like giving public presentations. After some training in science communication, I hope that I am not completely crap at them either. But this was my first presentation to an audience that were not native English speakers. Unfortunately I could not rely on our mutual knowledge of Con the Fruiterer, or speak in slang. AND, I only had six days to prepare.Read More »


The week of English

Maybe it was because of St Patrick’s Day, but this past week has had a tinge of the UK about it. Not only did a bar down the road start serving Guinness for the first time (you just can’t escape those ludicrous hats!), but a couple of events this week have reminded me of the Motherland:

English practice

On Tuesday we went along to an English class that a friend of mine attends. Her teacher – a lovely Tortisi guy with the most curious north English accent – was keen to meet us and wondered if we could help the students. We were more than happy to oblige, and so spent 40 minutes or so in ‘the hot chairs’ answering questions from the class.

A lot of the students were interested to hear our opinions of Catalonia and Tortosa, with only one question about keeping kangaroos as pets! We said yes, of course. Instead of asking our age, one student came straight out with it and asked if we were planning on having children……

(awkward silence)

Luckily his grammar was OK.

English Festival

The river that used to be our street last night. Another nominee for worst photo on this blog!
The river that used to be our street last night. Another nominee for worst photo on this blog!
The Ebro looking moody earlier this week

So far here we have seen an artichoke festival, an olive oil festival, a local produce festival, a Christmas festival, several festivals for various saints and a ‘ruta de tapas’ celebrating all things l’abadejo (cod, currently happening at bars and restaurants across Tortosa). This weekend was the Tortosa English Festival, an initiative to help local students get excited about learning English. I have to confess we didn’t make the most of this because of the rain (see below), but there have been Irish breakfasts, English magic shows, debates and basketball demonstrations across town.

English weather

The atmosphere must have heard about the festival somehow because it has been raining all weekend! A perfect English spring drenching thanks to a bunch of moist air coming from the Mediterranean. This has kept us inside most of the weekend, finally catching up on Serial and getting stuck into a puzzle like the 65-year-olds we secretly are. All we need now are some Yorkshire puddings…

The week we tried to learn Spanish

‘What?’ I hear you say! ‘Haven’t you been living in Spain for three months now? Haven’t you been trying to learn Spanish for, I don’t know, the whole time?!’

The truth is, it’s actually been quite hard to for us to find a structured way to learn Castellano. The main reason for this is that, of course, we are not living in Spain. We’re living in Catalonia.

There are free classes at my university, at the town hall, anywhere really, if we wanted to learn Catalan. It’s not that we don’t want to. It would be great to know more about all the street signs we see and conversations we hear. But people here speak ‘Tortosi’, which is a Catalan dialect, different from standard Catalan and even different from the Catalan spoken 15 minutes away in other towns! And we were advised on arrival to start by learning Spanish, and then try our hand at Catalan later. Luckily for us, most people here are amazingly bilingual, meaning that they can help us with Spanish, even if it is not their mother gossip language.

If we were living in Barcelona or Tarragona, or anywhere outside of Catalonia, there would be plenty of Spanish classes available. But because we are in a town not quite big enough, it has been very difficult to come by any form of formal teaching. So far we have been pretty much teaching ourselves with language apps, books bought online, and Spanish TV.

In the last few weeks we’ve also felt confident enough to start some intercambios, exchanging languages with a couple of girls from university over a coffee or a beer. This is great for making friends and helping with English, but because my Spanish is still so basic, I find myself making the same foolish mistakes every week.  I speak a little Spanish at work, but as the only native English speaker my colleagues really appreciate practising their English, and that makes it easy for me to be lazy.

This week we stepped up our game. Firstly, after a month of pestering from two colleagues in a similar position, a language teacher from my university’s Tarragona campus came down to test our Spanish skills, to see if they could run some classes here. We performed miserably in the test, so maybe something will come of it, but we are not keeping our hopes up.

Secondly, H pulled the trigger on some intensive Spanish classes in Tarragona, an hour from here by train. We didn’t do this earlier because the travel is expensive, as is the class. 135€ a week for 20 hours, plus 30€ registration, plus 80€ for travel, and that’s a significant slab of our income gone. But it was definitely worth it. H is more confident at speaking Spanish already, and we’re learning different methods of study, which is great.

Finally, after asking around and around, a lovely librarian uncovered free Spanish classes for new arrivals here. This coming Thursday we will head to a dingy-looking building opposite the train station and learn for 2.5 hours. Who knows how good it will be, but at least we’re trying.