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New Language – New Life

‘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 Spaniards.

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

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