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Spanish Secrets: Orally And Aurally

Light is dawning. Craig Briggs is finding that at last he can carry on a half-hour conversation in Spanish. "Itís incredible how much easier everyday chores become with improved communications,'' he adds.

To read many more of Craig's wonderful, colourful columns about his new life in Galicia please click on Spanish Secrets in the menu on this page.

Can you imagine how it must feel for a deaf person to suddenly be able hear?

Metaphorically I have recently experienced a similar uplifting revelation. For the past four and a half years my understanding of Spanish has relied as much on observing body language, as on the spoken words.

Before moving to Spain, Melanie and I spent three years attending night-school. Mastering the Spanish language was our grand ambition. Although our time back in school was not wasted, we fell well short of our intended goal.

Long evenings at college, asking fellow novices their names and soliciting the time of the next train to Barcelona did nothing to prepare us for life in rural Spain. The first two years of studying were as much a social event as a thirst for linguistic knowledge.

During this time, my thirst was reserved for the after-class social. This took the form of an habitual visit to The Spotted Cow public house, accompanied by equally thirsty classmates. By the third year I was so far behind in my learning that catching up was impossible. My lack of application and overall laziness would come back to haunt me.

After three years at night-school and another four and a half living in Spain, one might suppose that I should now be fluent in my adopted tongue, but unfortunately this is not the case.

Making myself understood has never posed too much of a problem. If all else fails, thereís always a scrap of paper and a scribbled sketch. Whatever the language, a picture paints a thousand words.

On many occasions, Iíve watched with amusement as my oral jumble of mispronounced words is unravelled and rearranged by an attentive listener. Itís wonderful to see their facial expressions transform from total incomprehension, to possible solutions and eventually, having formed a logical and coherent sentence, complete understanding.

Unfortunately this same technique does not work in reverse. My lack of vocabulary and unfamiliarity with grammatical structure leaves me blank-faced and silent. Piecing together a sentence with only a few words of aural understanding is like trying to find a pirate's hoard with only half the treasure-map.

About two weeks ago, all this changed. There was no blinding light or apparition, but it was undeniable. Something was different. Iíd just spent half an hour in conversation with my Spanish hosts. Weíd spoken on serious issues, laughed and joked and exchanged questions and answers. It could hardly be described as fluent or fluid but Iíd understood the conversation and in turn was able to respond. For the first time I was hearing the sentences as a whole rather than a series of individual words.

Itís incredible how much easier everyday chores become with improved communications. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn before I can begin to feel confident with my Spanish. For the time being Iíll content myself with my new found, if somewhat undeserved, skills.

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