My beautiful friend from Manchester (with the equally mancunian name of Zosia) has lived in the city of San Sebastian for the past 25 years. As an English teacher she always complains about the X-pats in Donosti (the Basque name for this most beautiful sea-side city) who, after years married to Spaniards/Basques, and totally integrated into the Spanish/Basque way of life, slowly start to forget their English!
You speak Spanish, no?
There are very few X Pats in the region ….. even in San Sebastian. And, an hour away, in the remote mountain villages of Ituren in Navarra where I live I go months without meeting another English-speaking foreigner of any description apart from my daughter (and I am not sure if she is classed as foreign or not).
I have tried to make you proud of me, Zosia, and struggled to maintain the intricate question tags at the ends of my sentences, the elaborate wouldn’t you’s and shouldn’t we’s, the pernickety didn’t you’s and don’t you’sthe haunt of all EFL students. But, alas Zosia, I fear that I will also let you down. After years of speaking Spanish day in and out my English is definitely starting to slip.
How easily that ubiquitous, slap-it-on-everywhere Spanish No? sneaks in at the end of my sentences. You are staying for lunch, no? Marion, you did do your homework, no? The cows have been milked, no?Apart from dropping my T’s (to be blamed on my Brummy upbring not my Spanish one) I am now dropping my I’s as well! My Christmas circular, before corrected, started off last year with “am sorry to be writing so late but have been accused of breaking and entering, robbery and kidnapping and….”.* The all incriminating I’s were simply not forthcoming. When you speak another language for the greater part of the day then I believe that you actually start to think differently too!
Thinking in Spanish
In Spanish there is often no need to say the subject of the action. ‘ I’,’ You’, ‘She’, ‘We’, ‘They’ as it is often implicit in the verb which, unlike English, changes with each person. From the verb alone it becomes obvious who is doing what. “I kidnapped my French lodger, then the police came” for example, is translated by “ secuestré a mi inquilino francés y después vino la policía .” You will notice that in this translation there is no need for the word ‘I’ in Spanish, that the phrase ‘French lodger’ is translated as lodger French and that ´the police came´ is turned back to front into ´came the police´.
Do the tomatoes come first?
Each language, although it may try to communicate a similar message, selects the information of the sentence in a different order. It is rather like shopping; do you go to the butchers before the bakers and the green grocers, or do you pick up the peppers and tomatoes before the baguette and then make a mad dash for the chorizo before closing time? Finally, the shopping bag (or the sentence) will be filled with similar ingredients, simply chosen in a slightly different order. Hence, when you speak a language constantly, your mind slowly gets trained to search for, and select, information in different ways. So forgive me Zosia if my French lodger temporarily becomes my lodger French, my brother’s son becomes the son of my brother and if ‘the cow broke the fence’ is temporarily rendered as ‘ broke the cow the fence’. I should know better, no?
Our English, and espescially English idioms, also suffer from lack of use. Hence, whether I am driven up or down the wall, through or into the bananas, whether I am up or down the creek with or without a paddle, as mad as a march hare or a january rabbit I am not sure. (The emotions induced by the vagaries of motherhood are, I assure you, the same). And then finally there is also the eternal problem of pleases and thank you’s – so essential in the English language but a little thinner on the floor and less necessary in Spanish : -). Here I owe my special apologies, not only to you, Zosia, but to mum. Sorry mum!
- All kidnapping charges have been dropped! The story as to how I came to be accused of breaking & entering, theft and kidnapping, have had the house full of Spanish police, will be left for another blog.