Spanish speakers from the area of Granada and its surroundings have an amazingly interesting accent but one that is also really hard to understand. In my class about Miguel de Cervantes, the exact same feeling that I felt in my first Spanish literature lecture in Bern overcame me: I was completely baffled with the content of the class because I had only understood fraction of what was discussed. I was also worried, now as well as back then, that I would ever even be able to follow the class to an extent that I could write an exam about it – and actually pass it. The fact that I am now in my 5th semester on an Erasmus exchange proves that I was able to and that I would be able to do this course also here. It is a lot harder to follow a class if you have problems with understanding the teacher, but with a lot of effort it is still possible. I have also realized that by hearing a persons’ accent repeatedly, you get used to how that person speaks. And even if at some point you don’t understand anything at all instead of tilting at windmills by yourself, you can always be so blunt and just ask – which is a thing I had to learn to get used to: To ask for help. I sometimes feel shy and embarrassed to bother people with questions that might be obvious to them. However, as far as I have experienced, the teacher and also my classmates always gladly explained to me something again if needed which made things so much easier.
While comprehension and understanding of the language in the university was partly really hard for me at the beginning, I didn’t really have problems with speaking the academic language. After all, that is what I had been practicing a lot back home. In university back home, my use of the Spanish language consisted mostly of reading, writing and discussing academic texts. I struggle more with everyday language like explaining why I don’t like studying in the library, expressing how cool I find something, or just speaking about my day. It’s the colloquial vocabulary that I still lack and I often feel that I sound really formal when I speak to people, even though I try to sound casual.
This made me realize that my Spanish is essentially more conceptually written which is also what every textbook teaches you. Even though these books try to prepare you for everyday situations like introducing yourself, going to the shop or asking for directions it would never be possible to prepare yourself for the wide range of the colloquial and dialectal lexicon of a language that changes a little bit with every individual person you speak to and this kind of amazing and interesting vocabulary can only be learned exactly where I am now: among native speakers.
While reflecting on this I realized something very important, actually the most important facet of the Spanish language, which I sometimes tend to forget about in my Spanish classes. However, this error of judgement is not only made by me but it is something that as language students we tend to overlook. Language, in general, is not just a series of grammatical rules which poets use to create art, or that authors use to write a book, it’s culture. No, it’s much more than that. Language represents a people, it tells us about their customs, their way of life, their traditions and their history. Here, language isn’t confined to the walls of a classroom, it’s alive and that feeling is infectious.