A Spanish labour of love – the joy of language learning

I’ve been speaking Spanish for 17 years now. Admittedly, in the earlier years I sounded more like Julio Geordio than Julio Iglesias, but as time progressed so did my level of Spanish. For me, it is the most beautiful language in the world. I first became captivated by it in 2005 during a year away from home travelling the world. I was in Argentina, a country I was only supposed to be in for a few weeks but I ended up spending three months there. I met a girl in Mendoza called Maria who was on holiday and when she had to go back to Buenos Aires I followed. I rented a lovely apartment with fantastic views all over the city and got to see my new friend most days. Thankfully, Maria spoke very good English but when she was with friends she would speak Spanish. I picked up bits of the conversation and would mimic her or ask what a particular word meant. I was also very confused as to why they were talking about Peru all the time until she explained that the Spanish for ‘but’ was ‘pero‘! I was dazzled by the sound of this mesmerizing language, a feeling that, looking back, was probably magnified by the charm of the Argentinian accent. When my three month allowance to stay in the country was up it was time to say goodbye to Maria and her amazing country.

Newcastle’s South American football genius, Julio Geordio

When I returned to England at the end of my global escapades, I immediately began plotting my next adventure. Previously, during a stay in Laos, in South East Asia, I had volunteered to work in a school in a small village teaching children English. I loved every minute of it and I made a vow to teach English again, but next time it would be in the place that had left the biggest impression on me during my world trip. Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America, topped the list. Its flamboyance, rich culture and super friendly people, together with its amazing food and passion for football make it a truly outstanding city with irresistible charm. I took a job in sales and spent the next year and a half saving up enough money to return to the Argentinian capital.

Meanwhile, I began to study the Spanish language obsessively, teaching myself with books, CDs and DVDs. I remember working through a grammar book and was quite enjoying myself until I got into difficulty with ‘ser‘ and ‘estar‘. Why on Earth did they have two different verbs for ‘to be’? What was all this permanent versus temporary nonsense? A bit later I moved onto the past tense and I soon had my tail in a spin with the preterite and imperfect. Completed past actions versus ongoing or recurrent past actions? Undeterred, I carried on studying and when I got to the end of the tenses I was feeling quite pleased with myself. I did have a few concerns but nothing I thought I couldn’t handle. That was until I started reading the next chapter, the subjunctive. What in the name of sweet baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph was this? Something to do with a mood, a wish, a desire, a feeling, a doubt or a command? It had me completely bamboozled. At first I thought I could remedy the situation by simply failing to acknowledge its very existence. If I basically ignored it I would never have to use it. However, it soon became clear that it was an integral aspect of the Spanish language and I would somehow have to get to grips with this weird abstract idea called the subjunctive.

The subjunctive, may God help us!

The time arrived for me to return to South America. I was so excited that I would finally be practicing the Spanish I had been teaching myself. On route to Argentina I had arranged to have a month in Costa Rica at a Spanish language and yoga school in the coastal town of Montezuma. I would do a class of yoga beside the beach every morning followed by a couple of Spanish classes. The setting for the yoga was sensational and ideal for perfecting my headstand. With a beautiful golden beach in front of us and a lush green jungle inhabited by wildlife behind us, it was just like paradise. Many a time I would fall into a trance-like state starring out at the shimmering sea whilst listening to the hypnotic sound of the waves lapping up against the beach. And then, with a squawk from a parrot or a howl from a monkey, I would be gently brought back to a calm reality. The Spanish classes were taught by Federico from Buenos Aires and Nuria from Barcelona, two excellent teachers. Classes were very laid-back and often took place in the nearby bars and cafes. It was an amazing experience and lovely to finally be speaking Spanish with natives from Spanish speaking countries.

Spanish class al fresco style with Nuria (centre)

When I arrived in Buenos Aires I completed a TEFL course in the city centre and then began working as an English teacher. During this time I was lucky to meet Paola. She was very kind and invited me to live with her at the house she shared with her mother. Although a fair distance from the city centre, the good thing about living here was that neither of them spoke English so I was forced to unleash my unusual brand of Spanish on them during conversation. Although a very steep learning curve, it acted as a way to really turbocharge my progress with the Spanish language. Keen as mustard, I would go everywhere with a notepad and dictionary and every time I came across a word I didn’t understand I would look it up and meticulously write it down. The pages soon filled up with Spanish words and expressions and it wasn’t long before I’d memorised the most common ones, using them to hold down conversations of a more advanced level. I also learnt the best in Argentinian profanity and, jotting down every filthy new expression in my trusty notebook, I was soon able to swear as good as any of the locals! As far as I was concerned I was now fluent!

Charming!

After spending over two years teaching English in Buenos Aires it was sadly time to say adios to Paola and to Argentina for a second time. My level of Spanish was by now pretty good so, once back on home soil, I decided to take a distance learning course for a Spanish A Level with Oxford Open Learning. I completed the two year course in one year, sailing through it and gaining an A grade. Then in 2013 I decided to take an even bigger leap and enrolled with the Open University on a Spanish and History Degree. However, I felt that, as it was a distance learning course, I was missing out on the speaking and listening aspects of my language learning. To rectify the problem I turned to a site called ‘Conversation Exchange’ which offered the opportunity to find a Spanish partner to practice Spanish and English conversation with. I met with Macarena from Malaga and Blanca from Zaragoza, who were both living in my hometown of Newcastle. We had several fantastic sessions meeting up in pubs and cafes. I was also contacted by numerous people who wanted to have Skype conversations. I ended up choosing Vanesa, an Argentinian living in Girona, mainly because I have a soft spot for Argentina. We chatted on Skype and after only our second session she announced that she would like to visit me. She came over in June 2015 and has been my girlfriend ever since. Back of the net!

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

I completed my degree in 2018 gaining First Class Honours. I knew I wanted to become a translator but, after researching the profession, it soon became evident that I would need a Master’s. I enrolled on the OU’s MA in Translation and qualified with a Merit in March of 2021. Last summer I finally moved to Girona to be with my girlfriend which, naturally, has helped to polish my language skills even further. When I look at where I am now compared to where I was when my love affair with the Spanish langauge began, during those carefree days in Buenos Aires all those years ago, I realise it has been quite a journey. Learning Spanish has been a joyful experience and a real labour of love. It has made me a better human being and has brought me closer to people from all over the world. It has gifted me foreign adventure, cultural enrichment, lifelong friendships, a new career, true love and a new life in Spain.

I have come a long way since my Julio Geordio days!

Julio Geordio and Vanesita

3 thoughts on “A Spanish labour of love – the joy of language learning

  1. Hi Travel Architect! For some reason the system had spammed your message and I just noticed it now, by accident really! Don’t know why as it’s never done it before. Anyway I’ve unspammed you! Translation career is getting there bit by bit but still more work to do on the marketing front! How are you anyway? I think I saw one of your recent blogs about only travelling domestically until the uncertainty passes, but I haven’t had a chance to read it properly yet. Hope you’re doing well!

    Liked by 1 person

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