Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Language / Radio

Spain, it would seem, is the second-favoured destination (after Australia) for Brits seeking to escape the ghastly British climate and other negatives, such as marauding ASBO cases and Ant and Dec. Unlike Australia, however, Spain does not have “Neighbours”, cricket or a predominantly English language (setting aside any bastardisations of English down under and the insidious encroachment of the “moronic interrogative” - as Rory McGrath dubbed it - whereby some finish sentences with a questioning up-stress). It is the absence of English that makes life in Spain a tad difficult for some. All that nice weather, but why do they have to speak foreign?

Learning a language, or rather learning the language of the country in which one resides, seems to me a matter of - at least - courtesy. It does also have some practical advantages, such as being able to tell people eating Ritz biscuits at reception desks that they are being rude. But for many expats - and there are great numbers of them here - getting to grips with “the native” extends to no more than a handful of words and phrases - if that.

Now, I make no pretence to being fluent in Spanish, while my Mallorquin is non-existent, but I have made the attempt with the dominant lingo (castellano or Castilian to use the anglicised term). I can conduct business in Spanish, moan at people in Spanish, read newspapers in Spanish.

There are reasons why expats do not learn the language very well. One is sheer laziness. Two is an expat culture of surrounding oneself only with other expats (the ghetto mentality). Three is embarrassment with trying to use the language - and failing. Four is the difficulty.

It is difficult. No one can say it’s easy. It is also a fact that the older one gets, the more difficult it becomes. But it’s not impossible.

Problem is that for many English-speakers, Spanish (for which also read most other European languages) has not become a “lazy” language like English. For instance, whereas verb conjugation in English requires little change, Spanish does. For anyone who either didn’t learn French at school, or has forgotten it or who never took it in the first place, the concept of elements of a verb being different is a tricky one to get your head around. Then there is masculine and feminine, adjectival endings, the use of the present to mean the future. And they say Spanish is one of the easier languages (it is compared to some - German or, God forbid, Czech or the impenetrable Finno-Ugric tongues).

There are plenty of courses available. I know people, for example, who attend classes in Puerto Pollensa. The problem with classes - of anything up to 20 people - is that everyone is at different levels and personal teacher help is low. I learnt with a teacher one-on-one. Much better. It costs, and you have to do homework, but it was worth it. Moreover, I learnt in a structured way. Now, the language teaching industry will say that everyone has different learning styles. True, up to a point, but I defy anyone to really come to terms with a language unless they understand the structure - which means grammar and syntax.

Someone said to me when I was first here. “Oh, I can teach you, just from a few phrases ...” Bollocks. So, after a minute I was able to say “cómo estás”. Great. Did I know the root of estás? Did I know that it might not be appropriate in all circumstances? Did I know that there are two verbs “to be” in Spanish, and the difference between them? Did I stuff.

And so you get this rather bullshit approach to teaching. It doesn’t work. But maybe for those expats who would rather - having been here for some years - still only hang out at expat bars, make shop assistants try and understand their English, or get someone along to always translate, it’s good enough. There again, why not try Australia ...

So much for the above. I haven’t gone native. I haven’t totally embraced Mallorcan culture. I have my connections with England. I listen to BBC radio. I can get a buzz hearing the road reports on Five Live’s Drive. Operation Stack. M25. A406 Staples Corner. H-hmm!

Five Live is usually my radio channel of choice. Sad git that I am, I also get a buzz from listening to the footie phone-ins. Trouble is, 6-0-6 is crap. Not what it was in the days of the peerless Danny Baker. But I still listen, or rather I don’t. Because it is often 7:30-0-6 (or 8:30-0-6) if you take into account the hour’s difference. And then there are the times when the Beeb’s streaming (of events like Premiership games) is blocked to international listeners, and remains blocked because some twat has forgotten to switch it back on again, so you can’t hear the subsequent programmes either.

But there is redemption ... of sorts. Radio London. Ok, you have to be a one-time London boy like me, who supports Spurs. But Saturdays when Five Live still has its commentary for Charlton v. Reading (which of course you can’t hear even if you were mad enough to want to), and puts back 6-0-6, you can go to London and hear Tom Watt. He’s rubbish, absolutely useless, but he’ll do. (Never was a better insult uttered than when Dirty Den called him - or rather Lofty - a “doormat”, but that’s something else.)

Thing is, after Tom Watt, Radio London has Gary Crowley. Remember him? Brilliant, if breathless. From new stuff like Jack Penate to old, old stuff like The Ronettes. Too much. “And then I kissed him ...” And at another time, London has Norman Jay. Terribly egotistical. “When I was ... (this that and the other)”, but boy what a selection. Current dance music to Chris Montez. Can you believe that? Fab gear. Oh and D. Baker in the afternoons.

Don’t know what got me on to all of this, but I enjoyed it anyway. Pip, pip!

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