How to Learn a Foreign Language - Talavera de la Reina, 1980

I'm living here in Talavera de la Reina, on the Calle del Prado. There aren't many people who speak English, which is good. I want to improve my Spanish, and I want to get to know the Spaniards. I lived in Andalucia for four years and learned a lot. Later, I also studied Spanish at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I should be well-equipped to at least get by here in Talavera de la Reina. Right? Hmm.  Hope so.

People talk of being immersed in a foreign language, of thinking, eating, drinking, even sleeping with the foreign language. That's how you learn. You need to become obsessed. You need to memorize vocabulary lists, and you need to write and re-write verb conjugations until you get them completely correct. Never, ever forget that accent mark. And, never, ever place an accent mark where it doesn't belong!

That subjunctive? We all know of it. It's one of the hardest parts of Spanish grammar. How do we forge through it?

I love the 'if' clause. When I was learning it, I came  up with all sorts of strange sentences just to practise formulating a complicated sentence. "If I had only gone to the dentist more often, I wouldn't have so many problems with my teeth."  Yes, try saying that in Spanish. It's fun, and I've always loved thinking up ways to practise my Spanish.

So what? I hear you thinking.

You know what's what?

My mother's visiting me right now. It's her first time here in Talavera de la Reina. There are no menus in English, no signs in English, and there's nobody around here she's liable to meet who speaks English, except for me, my husband and our four year old son.

Guess what?

My mother has already made friends with the Lady from Leon who lives on the same floor. The Lady from Leon doesn't know any English and my mother doesn't know any Spanish. Yet, they communicate. They have a laugh and they each talk in their own language. Somehow it works!

There are so many different ways of communicating. You don't always need to know the grammar, the syntax, the vocabulary. You just need to have a desire to communicate, to learn about how other people think, how they live.