‘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.