" To have another language is to possess a second soul'
Language is what makes us quintessentially human, it is inventive
and unpredictable. It allows us to create and exchange new
combinations of ideas. An inherent gift developed throughout
life - a miracle.
Acquiring a second language takes time and patience, at times
it is rewarding and enriching, other times frustrating, often
it is hilarious but it is never boring. After only a few weeks
of learning Spanish, my speaking and understanding (although
still very basic) had improved to the stage that I and my
five classmates were able to exchange experiences and ideas
on fundamental topics. However, the time had come, frightening
as it was, to use our newly acquired language skills on real
My first few attempts didn't go very well, I lost my nerve
and resorted to the tried and tested method of grunting and
pointing. My next ventures were better but I did end up with
an unwanted cup of tea and a plate of chips, however at my
next attempt I cracked it. Now I was getting confident, I
started to use full sentences and to incorporate newly learned
phrases into my conversations, but it all went horribly wrong.
One of my favourite and much used phrase 'que pena'
- meaning 'what a pity' -I mixed up with 'que pene' -
which means 'what a penis'! I was forced to keep a low profile
for a few days.
However, on occasion it does work out. A friend and I wandered
into a bar off the main street, coming in from the evening
sunlight we were immediately conveyed to a different era.
With its old multi-coloured floor tiles and low oak ceiling,
held up by eight large roughly-hewn circular stone pillars
the bar looked as though it had been built during the Roman
invasion and had remained untouched and perfectly preserved
since then. Taking a seat at the bar we ordered beers but
were uncomfortably aware of the silence and the staring of
the other six occupants. With the silent language of a raised
eyebrow and a quick nod my friend and I made a pact to down
the beer and leave the archaic bar quickly, never to return.
However, one of the Spaniards impressed by our speedy drinking
skills offered to buy us another.
Within the hour and a few beers later we were sharing stories,
more beers later we were singing 'Frank Sinatra' songs ('I'll
do it my Way' - crosses all frontiers). A tequila or two later
I was dancing merengue like I had been born to it (I had previously
thought it was a dessert). With the sound of the cathedral
bells alerting us to dawn, we toasted España once more
and left our new drinking companions who wouldn't let us pay,
'next time', they said.
Walking home through the magnificent Plaza Mayor where
the last of the few die-hard revelers were, and watched disapprovingly
by the busts of old kings and even by Generalísimo
Franco himself we felt overwhelmingly happy and proud. We
had survived a whole night in the company of real Spaniards,
talking completely in Spanish and even had a date (livers
permitting) to return the next night. Not bad for a couple
of foreigners whose Spanish only weeks ago had consisted of
'hasta la vista, baby' and 'olé, olé, olé'.
Sara Woods studies at don Quijote in Salamanca.
For more information about don Quijote, visit Don
Text © Sara Woods, all rights reserved