My Spanish is better than you manners

What do you do when someone tells you your Spanish is rubbish? Well for a start, you can kiss your good mood goodbye. Wave goodbye to your nice afternoon - but keep your smile still there, plastered on your disbelieving face.

I should have seen it coming. This particular guy used to love telling me my Spanish was crap. But he hasn't for ages, at least six months, and I thought we were past all that.

But here he is, doing it again. In the aftermath of someone's birthday lunch, in front of a big group of people. Totally uncalled for. He says it once, he says it again for emphasis, and I realise everyone is looking at us, waiting to see what I'll say. No one is going to come to my rescue, tell him to shut up.

So what do you do? Say: "Hey, my Spanish might not be great, but it's better than your manners"? or "Actually I can speak OK, but big groups like this really scare me, so I tend to stay quiet and listen"? Or "How do you know, you've hardly talked to me? I spent ten hours at a party last weekend talking Spanish all the time and lots of people said it was actually getting better. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it."?

But I don't say any of that. Instead I make a joke of it. "My Spanish is fine. It's just that you don't speak it very well." And everyone laughs, including me and him. And my smile is still plastered on, though I'm glad of my sunglasses, so no one can see the pathetic tears of embarrassment and anger prickling at my eyes.

"He doesn't mean it in a bad way," says the bloke. "We're all like that in this group, we just take the piss about things we shouldn't." And I know he's right - this guy isn't trying to be nasty. He really has no idea how much it upsets me.

He's never studied another language, never lived in another country. Never had to walk the tightrope of trying to follow a group conversation of a group of tipsy friends who've known each other half their lives and half speak in their own version of Spanish. He's never lost concentration and slipped down into total confusion, desperately scrabbling to catch the threads of conversation again to pull himself back up.

The fact is that I never thought of myself as a shy person. But in my second language I can be. And it's really hard in a group of people who know each other inside out the way they all do. And someone publicly putting down my language skills doesn't help. Surely anyone would be able to see that?

Maybe not. I used to be an English teacher. I would never never ever think of critisising one of my students in class for their mistakes. What would that do, apart from make them feel down on themselves? How could someone be so cruel?

But perhaps you wouldn't realise that unless you've seen it for your own eyes. The same way that you should know that if someone doesn't understand you the first time, you should slow down your speech. Maybe use easier words. Not just repeat the same sentence at the same speed, like this guy does every time.

A bit later he overhears when I misunderstand something a girl is telling me about her telephone. He throws his hands up and says: "You see?" Like it's a perfect example of my rubbishness.

"But so, what?" says the girl. "We understood each other in the end."

The bloke jumps in to help this time: "And how's your English? I'd like to see how you get on in a big group of British people."

"My English is terrible," he says. "But I've not been living in England six years."

Then he turns to me. "It's completely normal you don't improve. You work with English people, you speak English with him. If you're only speaking Spanish in situations when you're forced to do it, it won't get better. But there comes a time when you've just got to take matters in your own hands."

I'm tired, I think. I've been here like seven hours already and I want to go home. I've had enough of all this for today. "I'm trying my best!" I tell him.

But am I really trying my best? My Spanish is improving slowly, but it's nowhere as good as it should be to say that I've been six years in Spain, and that I have a Spanish boyfriend.

I don't take classes anymore, and though I've even blogged about my intentions to Speak Spanish with the bloke, I've even failed in doing that. I don't read books in Spanish like my friend Two Shandies does. What am i really doing apart from speaking it on a needs must basis?

I came here to immerse myself, but have i really done that? I seem to still have one foot firmly planted in the English bubble. If i'm not careful I'll end up like Michael Robinson - a famous football commentator here who still confuses his tenses and articles, and has the worst accent ever, after 30 years living here.

Though I still half want to kill that friend of the bloke's, I think he might have done me a favour. Call it a massive kick up the arse, if you will.

A similar thing happened with my a-level art teacher. He told me I would never get above a c - I would never be as good as my brother. You bastard, I thought. i'll show you. So I worked my behind off. Completely went over the top and painted so much I got pains in my neck from bending over the paper, and stains under my nails that wouldn't wash out for months. Couldn't hardly carry my portfolio to school.

Sure enough I got an A. Take that you horrible man - how can you me so mean to an 18-year-old? And well, truth be known, my stuff really wasn't as good as my brother's - he had a real god given talent. But I learned then that no-one has the right to tell you you you're rubbish - you can't do something, you're not good enough. and if you set your mind to what you want you can achieve it, if you're prepared to work at it.

So this time I am going to get serious about my Spanish. And maybe one day soon this friend of the bloke's will turn to me and say, "wow, your Spanish has really improved". But you know what, I won't hold my breath. Some people only seem to notice the stuff they can make you feel small with.


  1. Its easier said than done not to get riled up by someone like this. He sounds a real pig. I am in Melbourne right now and I sometimes dont get Aussie English or the accent. I am Sri Lankan and my English is fine but I still get thrown by some things Aussies say. I look blank and I am sure they think I dont have any idea of the English language! can be frustrating but we all get there in the end. Chin up I think You are doing very well out there.

  2. He sounds like an arsehole. Don’t worry about it. I can’t even get my head round the thought of learning to speak another language, let alone actually do it!

  3. He's an asshole !
    A tip that helped me, as my Spanish now is shit, sorry swearing twice in two minutes, is to watch films in Spanish with English subtitles, you will find that you stop reading and if you are you also realise that it doesnt always translate as you think it would.. Sounds to me like you are doing great and this guy just wanted to wind you up, and he knew how .. take care living my dream xx

  4. Ah thanks guys, I feel better already. And welcome to my blog Mystica, thanks for dropping by.
    You know it's weird, this guy isn't a bad person, I just think he's never had to deal with "foreigners" before and has no idea what it's like.

  5. Ciao Corte,

    He is a real mother, but I think it's great that you got something from it. You are better for that. I go to Italy a lot and speak Italian, but it's not great.

    When I arrive in Rome I challenge myself to speak only Italian no matter what. I sound like a complete ass sometimes and people turn to look at the funny American, but I really don't give a shit. For me it's a really big challenge and I enjoy it for some reason.

    You are going to be fine. Relax. I get so fricken lost sometimes.

    My best fiend in Italy says "Bill, you always say si si si, but you don't understand what the hell I am saying". Well that's only partly true.

    Good luck. On the positive note you are living in Spain. You're probably eating a lot of paella and I am damn jealous of that.

    Ciao Seamus

  6. Hey Seamus, thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting. I used to be a terrible one for the si, si sis. But now I do try to ask people when I don't understand, though it is difficult sometimes. I feel bad stopping people every five seconds!

    I am indeed eating plenty of paella. I'll lift a fork in your honour next time!

  7. Two Shandies6/22/2010 9:18 am

    He deserves a poke in the eyes!! However the silver lining to the cloud of rudeness is that you are motivated to learn.

  8. To me he sounds like the Typical madrileno asshole, i'm sure he says "macho!!" every two sentences... Living abroad it's a great challenge for itself and for your "self"... No need for him to add any extras to that! Enjoy it, and suerte with your spanish!

  9. Science Chick6/22/2010 10:19 am

    ¿Por qué los españoles somos así? Con la paciencia q tienen los amigos del Director de Barcelona conmigo y mi inglés... Por mi parte, prometo hablarte siempre en español a partir de ahora :) Besos para ti y the Bloke

  10. Language is a means of communicating. So long as you're communicating then what does it matter? And I can think of a two-fingered communication that wanker needs . . .

  11. Yeah right, I'd like to see him dumped into a group of broad Durham speakers and see how he copes. Even after living ten years in the country he wouldn't have a chance! Still, there's no way anyone would tell him his English was crap - that's just rude!

  12. I just can't believe that anyone would behave like that. I've never come across anyone here in the UK doing that to me, not even in the early days, when like you, I had difficulty in following a fast conversation in a noisy pub.

    The English can be patronising and 'sniffy' in a pretentious way, they can call me Norwegian when they know I'm from Finland, but they're never that rude.


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  14. I'm sorry that you had a hard day! I understand what it is like when you feel attacked like that by a guy in a social situation where you don't feel like you totally have a full grasp of the language. It's wonderful and brave of you to be there, so don't forget that. You're already doing more than most people would-living in a country foreign to you with a language that is not your native tongue!! Remeber to give yourself a pat on the back for that.

    Secondly, "But I learned then that no-one has the right to tell you you you're rubbish - you can't do something, you're not good enough. and if you set your mind to what you want you can achieve it, if you're prepared to work at it." That is a wonderful attitude! Think like a duck - let that experience with the inconsiderate man roll off your back and keep on quacking, no matter what sound comes out! :) Your Spanish will continue to improve and you'll feel great about it soon. Just promise to keep writing your blog in English, because while I can read some Spanish, I'm not the best at it!

  15. Marcos Perez6/24/2010 7:43 pm

    I've been in Slovakia six months, and all I can say is: 'I'll have a flattened dumpling with cheese and sour cream', 'show me your bedroom' and 'shave your legs, you monkey'.

  16. thanks so much for all your lovely comments people. I really feel so much better now. So sweet of you. So touched and chuffed to see new people reading and commenting. And Helena - glad to know I'm not alone.

    Wild Celtic - of course I'll carry on in English. :) At the moment I can manage one post a week. If it was Spanish it would be one a month!

    Marcos - you should write a blog on your life in Slovakia. Bet you've got some stories to tell.

    Science Chick - gracias guapa. Bueno, sigo intentando. Besos para ti y the Director.

  17. Thanks for coming by and signing on to follow my blog, and for your message of introduction. So far I've only read this post, but I agree with what your readers are saying...you are brave for immersing yourself in the Spanish culture, you don't deserve to be treated badly, and if you decide to work a little harder at improving your language skills, so much the better! Mmmm, paella. Me gusta mucho.

  18. Gracias Blissed-Out Grandma. Thanks for stopping by, and commenting. I'll raise a fork of paella in your honour.

  19. Holla Corte Inglesa!

    I know you had written this post months ago but I am new to Blogger and found your page from... damn! I don't remember now. ...from someone elses blog anyway.

    I wanted to tell you that you should be DAMN PROUD of yourself living in a foreign country and learning a foreign language and conversing with the locals in their own language!!! How anybody could even THINK of criticizing a foreigner for trying their best at speaking a language that is not their own is beyond my comprehension. I'm sitting here in amazement at the audacity of that guy.

    I envy you that you speak Spanish. I wish I did and had a place to use it in order to keep from forgetting it.

    Chin-up girl! You are amazing for all that you are doing!!!

    Abrazo fuerte Y besos!

  20. Besame culo, that's what you have to say to him.

  21. Lipstick and Latex - Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting. Thanks so much for your kind words, it means a lot. Since the incident he hasn't given me any more stick, and has actually been making an effort to speak his pigeon English with me. Think he realised how bad it made me feel and wanted to make up for it. I guess if you've never been in a situation where no-one speaks your language you don't know what it's like. Anyway, onwards and upwards!

    Rosie - ha ha ha, like it. will deffo give that a go next time! :)