Expat Life

With Languages You Are at Home Anywhere

With Languages You Are At Home Anywhere

One morning while we were in Amsterdam, I woke up early to take some photos of the canals before the tour boats started up for the day. After a couple of pictures, I realized there was a thread of some sort making its way onto my images. I took a cloth from my camera bag, cleaned the front of my lens, then took a test shot, but the thread was still there. Annoyed, I removed the lens and ever so carefully cleaned the inside of the glass while attempting to shield the inside of my camera from the wind. A second test shot revealed that the pesky thread was still there.

An elderly Dutch gentleman must have been watching me become more and more perplexed, because he approached me and in stilted English softly spoke the word ‘mirror’. He was right, the little thread had somehow made its way onto the mirror inside my camera. I expressed my thanks, but he just shook his head and smiled. He understood the sentiment, but the words were foreign. Him knowing only a little English, and I knowing even less Dutch, we parted ways, but the encounter stayed with me. Who was this man? How did he know my problem was with the mirror? For all I know, I could have just met a famous Dutch photographer out for his morning stroll before the bustle of daily activity began, but because we didn’t share a common language, our exchange ended before I could even properly thank him for his help.

Upon our return home, I began researching online for language courses in our area. This being London, they weren’t difficult to find. On Monday this week, I attended my first adult education Spanish language class. Why Spanish and not Dutch? Because 100 years ago in high school and college, I took a few semesters in Spanish, so I figured it was a good place to start. At least I’d have a little experience under my belt, and I wouldn’t feel like I was starting from scratch. But after sitting through the first class…ha! To say my Spanish is rusty is an understatement. My Spanish has long since corroded into completely unusable pieces. Spanish is not like riding a bike. (But knowing me, I’ve probably forgotten how to do that properly, too.) I am re-learning this language all over again.

The course I’ve chosen is made up of three parts, each ten weeks long, so it should carry me all the way to next summer when, hopefully, I’ll get to take a trip to Spain and put what I’ve learned to good use. I don’t expect to be fluent, not in a year, but if I can at least communicate, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. And then it will be on to the next language, and the next, and maybe, eventually, I’ll be able to communicate (at least a little) everywhere I go. That’s the dream anyway. But you want to know what I’ve learned so far?

Hola! Buenos dias! Me llamo Sarah. Y tu?

I’ve got a long way to go…

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  • T. Lennie
    October 6, 2013 at 2:52 AM

    Learning Spanish is something Michael and I really want to do. We go to Mexico a lot, and really do not want to be “those” tourists. I have picked up enough that I know the basics… but I have a lot of work to do!

  • Nicole
    October 4, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    Me llamo Nicole! Muy bueno! My Spanish is also pretty rusty! I can understand a lot of it, but it’s harder to speak it. I downloaded an app on my Kindle that is fun to use and help you learn basic phrases. I’d love to hear more about this class and what you’re learning. I’ve always wanted to be able to speak another language.

  • Anna
    October 1, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    I love learning languages and as soon as I feel comfortable in French to not have to study any more, I’ll want to start Spanish. That’s a really lovely story too. They’re so lovely in Amsterdam and they speak such good English that it almost seems like learning Dutch is unnecessary but I think you really learn a lot about the culture when you learn the language. I love a bit of language talk!

  • Emmymom
    October 1, 2013 at 7:00 AM

    My name is Emily :) I took four years in high school but yea very rusty myself. My husband served a two year church mission in Mexico so he is pretty fluent in it and I can understand most of everything he says but I just would never know how to speak back to him in it.

  • Jo
    September 30, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    Good on you! One day I’ll get this whole speaking French thing down … in the mean time I’m very glad that I at least know enough to get by.

  • Nancy
    September 30, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    Hi, Sarah…I just happened upon your blog tonight. You know how it is, you pop in one place which leads you to another and another. So glad to have found you! I share your love for travel, but for now, I live vicariously through others and keep dreaming away. Paris? I’ve been saving for almost two years and I’m up to $384.44. Shouldn’t be long now! =) Thanks for letting me follow along on your adventures.

  • Julie
    September 29, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    Thanks for following my blog! It sounds like you have some incredible adventures! I look forward to reading about them in the future! I’m a native English speaker (obviamente) but majored in Spanish in college. I spent significant periods of time in various Spanish speaking countries but now living full-time in an area where native Spanish speakers are far and few (not like some other American cities), my speaking skills have lessened significantly and it’s really disheartening. I try to keep up with reading and listening but not having anyone to speak with is definitely tough! You don’t use it you loose it ;) I’ve studied other languages (Italian and French) and honestly I feel Spanish is the easiest to pick up and use! Buena suerte with your estudios!

  • Katrin
    September 29, 2013 at 3:30 AM

    That is awesome, Sarah! I just bought a French course! I had French in school but I forgot so many things so I really want to improve it! I am sure you will be perfect in Spanish soon! I would like to learn Spanish too! And Dutch! And Swedish! And Icelandic…..

  • Connie Weiss
    September 29, 2013 at 12:33 AM

    I wish I could speak in another language. As it is….the only other language I speak is Walmart.

  • Natalie
    September 28, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    I took Spanish in high school and one in college and would love to be better at it.

  • Miwa
    September 28, 2013 at 3:22 AM

    Ooh, Spanish! I always tell myself that I wish I’d continued studying it after high school and college too. But I guess it’s never too late to take classes. And now that my Japanese has gotten pretty good, maybe I’ll look into studying Spanish again ;) Or maybe I’ll try French? Or German… or Korean… Everything sounds pretty interesting!

  • Jenn
    September 28, 2013 at 2:36 AM

    That is great! Learning a new language is so fun! When I am finished with school I plan to retake German. I have also looked into Rosetta Stone but I really don’t know what language I’d want to learn! Good luck with your courses!! :)

  • stephanie
    September 28, 2013 at 12:33 AM

    Muy bueno! Es difícil, pero seguir aprendiendo! :-)

  • Irene @ Away from Tenerife
    September 28, 2013 at 12:09 AM

    Good luck with your Spanish course, Sarah!

    I totally agree with you that knowing the local language always helps you to feel slightly more at home.

    I actually learnt Dutch while I was doing a year study exchange in Belgium. I did it just for fun but a few years later I spent a couple of yearsin the Netherlands and it proved to be a very useful skill as it allowed me to have a good job and to make some friends there. But just like you said, speaking Dutch isn’t like riding a bike and just two months after having left the Netherlands I can already feel that I’m no longer as fluent as I used to be.

    Anyway, back to Spanish lessons, I think you’ve made a great choice. Buena suerte y buen fin de semana :D

  • Tammy Chrzan
    September 27, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    As you know Spanish is used all over the world, so it’s a great language to learn. I have to have 2 college level classes in a foreign language and I’ve been arguing with myself over which to take, I want to re-learn Spanish as well so I can speak with my 8 year old daughter who becomes more bi-lingual every day, she translated a show to me the other day! But then I also thought about sign language that would help me communicate with some of my high needs children at work, but I don’t know if American sign language is used in England so… It will most likely be Spanish for me too. In High School I took 2 years of Spanish and 3 years of French. Do I remember any of it? Pffft. Hardly! So good luck my friend! You are awesome for learning a new language!

  • Stacie Stamper
    September 27, 2013 at 11:44 PM

    It is never too late to learn, I need to brush up on my Spanish as well. And because I think you will get it, I will leave you with this…What if Soy Milk is just regular milk introducing itself in Spanish….

  • Keith Wynn
    September 27, 2013 at 11:32 PM

    I think this is awesome that you are going to do this. It inspires me to want to do it. I want to learn French :)

  • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
    September 27, 2013 at 9:42 PM

    I think it’s great that you are taking up a language! I know a bit of spanish too, but it’s true, after not practicing for so long you loose a lot. My boyfriend has used a company called link words (I think thats right) and you can download the modules onto a computer and go at your own pace. He’s learned some German, Italian, and French. It’s a great little tool if you want to learn some basics!