¿Habla usted Inglés?
Arriving to Spain is always a blast having on mind that it is on the very top of the European most visited touristic destinations´ list, thanks to its natural and cultural beauty and heritage. After visiting its Mediterranean cost two times last year as a tourist, I returned to Spain for the third time to live, study and work at the university.
From the very first day of my stay in Valladolid as an Early Stage Researcher, I understood that this time I am about to gain a different experience. Valladolid is not too big a city with round 300.000 inhabitants situated in more-less central Spain. Being famous for a good regional wine, lamb specialties and purest Spanish language in the whole country, Valladolid has recently put some extra effort into attracting a bit more of young people from all over the world by opening its study programs for foreigners. Moreover, it got me thrilled from the very beginning with its architecture and charming streets that are packed with tapas bars and cafes always full of people in the evening hours. It is the city between two rivers where everything is within walking distance and it is just as big to provide its inhabitants with all the services they need in it.
On the other hand, connected to its geographic position and history, Valladolid remained a more-less traditionalist and a slightly conservative environment and even though I have never personally felt a noticeable gap between my Serbian cultural origin and a Spanish life style, when it comes to the language issue, it gets more complicated being a foreigner here.
During the first days of my stay here, I was overwhelmed with administrative work concerning working contract, enrollment to the doctorate school, my residence in Spain and all the issues that follow this matter. Having a prior experience from Milan, where I was facing the same problems at the very beginning of my master program, I could easily make a comparison between experiences in the two countries. I consider myself and my colleagues from the program in Valladolid lucky having the support and accompaniment of the local coordinator in each issue we were facing at the very start. Moreover, I believe I would not be able to manage by my own all the papers that were required by the procedure, mainly because here, as well as in Italy, one is meeting the working staff with no English language knowledge both in University administration offices and in other state institutions such as the police, social and health security offices, student residences, banks and ambulances. Fortunately, the situation at the department where we work is different. We were warmly welcomed by our team from university with which we can communicate both in Spanish and English and that assured our settling in the city and a successful beginning of the program.
Despite being familiar with the uncomfortable feeling caused by the lack of sufficient local language knowledge that I brought from my beginnings in Italy, the situation in Valladolid did not find me completely prepared. Peculiar thing that I have noticed while staying in here is that people sometimes simply cannot understand how come you are in their country not knowing their language. Sometimes, they tend to repeat over and over again the same sentence and often even raise the pitch of their voice thinking that this way you would understand the language better. Even though it takes you only few days to start using some words for establishing a basic everyday-life interaction, in order to be able to have a decent conversation about any topic with someone, it just takes months and months of the commitment and constant effort in learning the language.
Despite the strong will, necessity and positive attitude, it is possible to experience some downs in personal motivation for overcoming the language barrier. I tend to attribute this to things such as very fast speaking of the locals, hosting a majority of foreigners from Spanish speaking countries (Central and Southern America) and lack of will of some people to interact with you because of their insufficient English language knowledge or even fear of speaking a foreign language caused by lack of confidence. Nevertheless, it is so typical for Europeans in various countries not to show a will to interact with people on English, since we all have our own languages that should not be neglected and forgotten.
Speaking from the personal point of view, visiting metropolitan Barcelona and Madrid, the situation with the usage of foreign languages is better while you are surrounded with tons of other tourists, so that even locals are interacting with you in English with less problems. This is often not the case with less touristic cities such as Valladolid, where you might feel more like a foreigner whereas the answer to so frequently repeated question “¿Habla usted Inglés?” is mostly negative.
Overall, I must note that Spanish people in general are typical southern Europeans, outgoing, communicative, cheerful, willing to help and pleasant. From my personal experience, I have never had any problems making friends and interacting easily with locals both in Italy and now in Spain, it is just that the language issue does exist if you are arriving with no prior knowledge of the local language. Adding the fact that these nations are usually very talkative, you might really want to go for at least basic language course prior to your arrival here that would facilitate your future social life and sense of community belonging. Moreover, despite the fact that they will expect from you to speak the language, once you are here it is up to individual effort and attendance of the language courses paid by your personal means, to improve your Spanish.
To conclude, I would say that the situation might seem to me and others walking in my shoes, a bit limiting and unpleasant at the very start. It takes a lot of time and effort to reach the proficiency and confidence in every language, so the recipe is simple – hard work and patience and the results will eventually come. In the end, isn´t it the biggest beauty of Europe, having so much cultural, historical and linguistic diversity on such a small continent? So, I am definitely going to grab this opportunity to add another world-wide spoken language on my list and enjoy living and working in Spain to the fullest. Finally, Valladolid is offering an opportunity to learn the best Spanish in the interaction with locals. It is definitely worth it.
Author: Ksenija Krsmanovic
Photo: Ksenija Krsmanovic