There are many reasons for this, which I will go into at some point. In this post, though, I want to sum up briefly what these six years in Spain have actually done for my Spanish.
I'd been studying Spanish on and off since I was a teenager, and despite a couple of flashy certificates, including several from the London Chamber of Commerce which I clinched sometime back in the nineties, I could never really hold any more than the most basic of conversations. I don't think we ever even touched on the subjunctive, which seems like a bad joke, considering that I was certified to dominate the language to an "Advanced Level."
Little did I know then that it would take another 20 years for my skills to actually warrant this kind of certification. My time in Spain has made all the difference. In a nutshell:
- I am now fluent in Spanish and can hold my own on any topic, even in a group in a noisy bar. I can listen, read and speak without having to translate in my head.
- I'm able to read books at normal speed. Novels, biographies, anything. I wont lie - the first five nearly gave me a brain haemorrhage, but after that, things shifted to that very enjoyable place where you get sucked right into the story, rather than labouring over the lines and having to look up every fifth word. I've got tons of Spanish books on my Kindle and I read in Spanish every day.
- Besides books, I watch series for escapism, and there's tons of them freely accessible on RTVE (Radio Television Española). Best of all, they come with subtitles and transcripts! I don't need those to follow the plot, but I like having them turned on so that I can pick out the odd word or useful expression that's not yet part of my repertoire. Every time I watch an episode, I learn one or two things. But watching series is definitely a recreational activity and not "studying."
- Spanish is now firmly part of my hard drive. I will never forget it like some language learnt at school or in an evening class. Nobody can take it away from me - it's always available and ready to use for enjoyable activities.
And I've just realised another thing: there are even advantages to my Spanish not being perfect: It could serve as a tool to expand my social circle, which can be hard to do when you suddenly find yourself being part of "the older generation." So, I've been looking at evening classes for next semester, and I found a couple that might make fertile ground for getting to know new people. They are both advanced level Spanish (C1), centred around conversation and discussing current affairs. Taking an English class to make new friends would be just plain silly, and as for signing up for classes in other languages, I've come to the conclusion that having to focus intently on the various in-class exercises sucks up all of my energy - I have none left for putting on a be-my-friend face. I get so frustrated wrestling with the language that I shut down instead of engaging openly with my classmates. I feel that in a Spanish class, I'd be much more relaxed. Well, that's the theory... I shall report on how it's working (or not) in practice.