We hear it all the time...
"Foreigners coming here and not wanting to learn the language, take our jobs, open their own businesses, employ their own, etc etc. I noticed the change a few years back on a trip to the Homeland. My little town was now Polish. Most of the main street was now Polish greengrocers, Polish shops, and even a Polish pub. I was like something from London. Walk through certain parts of town and there you have it. A little bit of Arabic, or Italian, or Chinese, or indeed anything!
Think about how the Spanish must have felt when the Brits came over in their droves a few years back. All the urbanisaciones bought up by foreigners. New houses, pubs and restaurants popping up all over the place. There are as many as 800,000 British expats in Spain. Most are retired.
So, how do we integrate?
Learning the language may seem a little too obvious, but believe it or not, not everybody in the world speaks English. When I first arrived here, one of the first things I learned to say was "¿Hablas ingles?" to which I was usually sneered at. I heard "You come to my country, you speak my language". Fair enough. Some hire tutors. Mine did things the traditional way. Slapped a textbook down and said "VERBOS". That's enough to strike fear into any expat's heart. But we weren't taught what to say when we need to sort out paperwork. There's LOTS of paperwork. For everything. Like everywhere. But when you don't know where you're going, who to talk to or what to say, it becomes a bit of a struggle. True? What we need is conversational Spanish. How good does it feel to be able to hold a half decent conversation at the school gate? Even if it's about the weather? Or last night's match? Or what you did at the weekend? In Spanish?
Nowadays it's much easier, we just go online and log on to our Spanish courses or download an app. But then, we didn't have the internet or a computer. We went to the internet cafe to sent the occasional email to friends back home. Just old fashioned mobile phones that cost a fortune to call home on. Or send a text.
The kids now study English at school. There are English academies popping up everywhere. It's a different world now to what it was 12 years ago. But then I lived on a mostly Brit ubrbanisaion. The only people who spoke Spanish were the locals who had been there for years, running their little businesses and working the few shops and only supermarket there. I worked with British bosses and colleagues and served a Mainly English speaking clientèle. And those who couldn't speak it, at least tried. And we found out that the best way to learn Spanish is by talking to people. Don't be shy. That's my downfall. I'm scared I'll say the wrong thing. But I'll go ahead and say it anyway, and be corrected. And that's how you learn. If your self esteem is super low and you feel the need to go hire an interpreter to go to the Town Hall, or the the bank, or to the TGSS, then so be it. But once you can go and do it yourself the imagine the boost in self confidence! And saving money on translators! Better still!
Moving away from the Urb helped tremendously with the language barrier. Living in a town with only maybe half a dozen other native English speakers has done us a massive favour. My kids are only native English speakers in their respective schools and the little one is a superstar in her English class Big one, unfortunately think she knows it all so doesn't really pay attention. But as I found when I was studying to become an English teacher, English is COMPLICATED. You don't really think of it as difficult, but it is. So BIG thumbs up to everyone studying our beautiful language and all the lovely students I've had the pleasure of meeting and teaching so far. I think it's fantastic that so many people are learning English now, but that is NOT an excuse to stop practising your Spanish! Even if you're asked to speak in English, only agree to help each other practice. Before you know it, you may have even made a friend.
Find a local 'intercambio'. These are great for meeting people and chatting. They usually take place in a cafe or bar and folks come along to chat and help each other with their respective language. Great idea. Brings in customers too. Everyone's a winner. Pick up the local perodico (newspaper) and try to make out the headlines and adverts. Pick words out of the passage. Watch Spanish TV. Why not? The weather girls speak very quickly but after a while you'll start picking up words and again by reading the headlines on the news broadcast.
Have a day away from fellow Brits. I know it might be hard to see beyond the urb walls but there's a whole country out there, and it's beautiful. I'm not saying abandon local businesses but don't be afraid to venture into the nearest Spanish speaking town and try a tapa instead of a Sunday roast. Order a Spanish beer. Think of it as an adventure. Try out your Spanish skills and ask directions to the campo if you're feeling really adventurous!
That's what it is...an adventure. We shop in local Spanish supermarkets, instead of heading miles out to the nearest Iceland. I read the perodico, look at my kids' homework, and help out with making nik naks for the kids at the school, go to teachers meetings and volunteer to help with English classes at the infant school. The kids all say "Good morning" (yes, in English!) on the way up to school now. It's great. Great that there are more people than ever signing up for English classes and great that they want to practise but please don't use that as an excuse to be a little lazy with the Spanish. If we ALL made more of an effort to support each other, I think we'd all be happier.
I'm sure they'll be more to come on this subject!
Do YOU have any thoughts or tips?
Let me know