I’ve asked today’s guest blogger, Sarah to talk about her experience living in Madrid, Spain. You know I love Spain.. along with many other foreigners. Here is what she has to say.
One of the most exciting yet daunting tasks of moving to a new country is learning a new language. Madrid is no different as an expat destination. When I landed in the Spanish capital more than 5 years ago, I knew nothing more than the basic greetings.You cannot blame me, I’m South African and was still learning the rest of the 11 official languages when I moved to Spain?. My initial experiences with the language and culture were cushioned by the fact that my social circles were made of my expat work circle. There were also Spanish colleagues in the group who became our designated translators in restaurants, banks, pharmacies, metro stations and so on. This was of course, a temporary solution, because one needs their autonomy and independence. I recall an awkward situation involving a Greek colleague who had needed the help of a Spanish colleague to translate a message she received from a Spaniard she met at a local club the night before. How awkward, but the girl needed to know!
I took Spanish lessons a month after my arrival at a languages school in Sol. The classes occurred in the evenings, after work some days were tougher than others as I had to return tired from work and then psyche myself up for some Spanish language learning. However, the ambiance was really nice and encouraging. My class consisted of various nationalities from Austrians, to Finnish to Chinese. Our teacher didn’t speak English and that facilitated our learning without any language to fall back on, not that the Chinese students would have minded.There are various Spanish teaching schools to choose from in Madrid.There are schools for the corporate crowd, others for the Erasmus student crowd and of course the rest for just about anyone. Other factors in choosing a school from where to learn Spanish in Madrid include fees, class sizes, school facilities and resources as well as location of the school. Most schools provide a free Spanish level test and a visit of the facilities. Other Spanish learning options include language exchanges or taking individual classes. In the 4 month duration of my introductory Spanish lessons, I learnt enough to communicate in a basic way in in my daily routines. That really helped me a lot combined with the fact that Madrileños (Colloquial term for people, mainly Spanish, who live in Madrid) are really friendly and always willing to help. My nervousness at speaking quickly melted away, because I had pleasant experiences like the one time when I asked a señor (senior man) in the street for directions and having him cross the street with me to leave me at the corner of the street, I was looking for. My relocation experience has indeed been positive. That being said, in general, Spaniards who speak English, are far and wide in between therefore learning Spanish can be the difference between really enjoying Madrid by socialising with natives and expats indiscriminately to only mixing with English speaking expats.
At the end of the day, learning Spanish formally is a good way to start and then its necessary to venture out and integrate into the Spanish society. For that reason, though after 4 months I stopped taking formal lessons, I looked for ways to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and to practise my newly acquired Spanish.I spent more time with my Spanish friends and asked them to correct me, I searched for a sharing flat with Spanish flatmates, I ¨listened to spanish songs¨, I attended traditional fiestas (festivities) like San Isidro (Patron Saint of Madrid) or La Cabalgata (Procession of the Three Wise Men in January), and even learnt to prepare some typical Spanish dishes like tortilla and paella. It is possible to continue with one´s hobbies and interests while still feeling integrated in Spanish culture in Madrid, think of doing sports at the various public sports facilities, joining clubs and groups of interest like the Toastmasters Group (The club also exists in Spanish), Reading Circles, Baseball Clubs, Liverpool Fans Club etc.
Fortunately, its easier to make contact with people and make friends nowadays through social media networks. Look out for language exchange (intercambios de idiomas) and social activities groups for a jumpstart to making friends. However, it necessary to be wary of the comfort zone of living and moving in exclusively expat circles. I know expats who have been in Madrid for decades and still speak Spanish poorly. At the end of the day it all depends on the objectives of every individual. Bienvenido a Madrid!
About the Author:
Sarah is a South African who has made Madrid home since 5 years. She writes a blog about social and cultural activities to do freely or very cheaply in Madrid. When she is not writing on the blog, she plays basketball, runs in Madrid short distance races, attends many of the free art and photographic expositions she and the blog contributors publish as well as learns French. If you are coming to Madrid and need some travel tips, comment on her blog and she will get back to you.