Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Less than a month til Christmas!

I can't believe I've been in Spain for more than 4 months now! I've gotten so used to life here and it feels very normal now. I don't seem to miss home as much as other people do, but I do have my days and I can't wait to get home now for Christmas to spend time with my family and friends in Scotland. I'm really looking forward to the food, drink and Scottish music at new years! It has been very refreshing to come to Murcia and experience a new way of life and I certainly don't have many complaints, but being away from your home does make you realise the advantages of you own country.

So what have I been up to? I went to visit Alhama again where I hoped I would understand the people a bit better. Unfortunately I can only see a slight improvement on that front but I've been told not to worry if I can't understand people outside of the city. Maybe after 2 semesters here it will get a lot better. I also had my first trip to the cinema here! I saw 'Un Golpe de Altura' (Tower Heist) starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy - dubbed in Spanish of course. It was quite strange to see Eddie Murphy's facial expressions and expecting a strong and familiar American accent to come out, but hearing a standardised Spanish accent instead. Nonetheless it was still very funny and I would recommend it!

I also took another trip to Cartagena where I saw more of the city itself and visited the beautiful port they have. Needless to say the weather wasn't quite as good as it was in August. Took some more pictures of cool parts of the city and had ruedas con chocolate in the evening, which are like 'churros', basically a donut but in more of a cylinder shape. (Photos to the side and below)

Mazarron was another stop on my list of places to visit in Murcia. It is usually buzzing with people during the summer but when I went, it was deserted apart from the occasional group of English people taking a walk along the beach. This was actually quite an advantage as I got to take some lovely pictures without people getting in the way.

I have now went to several 'intercambios' in Murcia where people meet up to share their languages. Usually these take place in local bars where the flow of alcohol keeps your confidence level up. Mind you, some people overdo it and end up lacking the ability to speak even their native language! I would really recommend these to language students or anyone interested in improving their spoken skills. Take a pen and paper along with you to write down vocabulary you learn and to write things down for other people. Exchange numbers, email addresses and arrange to meet up on a regular basis if you are serious about making an improvement in your language abilities. I have met some extremely interesting and talented people from these events and I recommend taking advantage of these events in your own country as well as whilst abroad.

This post wouldn't be complete without a final and very British note about the weather. Recently it has been getting a lot colder. The temperature varies between about 13 and 21 degrees, however a few days ago it was 26 degrees and it felt like the height of summer again! If this is the late Autumn weather in Spain then I'm not surprised that so many Brits move here permanantly. I'm sure it'll be a shock when I land in Glasgow on the 19th of December when it's minus goodness knows how many degrees.

Having a great time here. I hope people are enjoying reading this and if anyone needs any advice or wants to share experiences, send me a message!

¡Hasta luego!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

¡Háblame en castellano!

Many people outside of Spain do not know that more than one official language exists within the peninsula. In fact, there are 4 official languages in Spain:

1) Castellano (Castilian Spanish) – a language that has evolved greatly since its birth from Latin in around the 9th century. It has many influences from Arabic and increasingly English. Spoken by roughly 41 million speakers in Spain. 

2) Catalán – a language spoken by almost 3 million people as their day-to-day language in Catalonia but understood by almost 6 million. The language (and its variations) is spoken in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and small areas of France and Italy. The Catalan lexicon is closer to its Latin routes than that of Castellano.  For example, in Latin the word for ‘key’ – ‘clavis’ – becomes ‘clau’ in Catalán but ‘llave’ in Castellano. One interesting pattern (at least for me) is the letter ‘F’ in Latin and Catalán becoming the letter ‘H’ in Castellano at the start of a word. For example: 

facere (latin)
--> fer (catalán) --> hacer (castellano); [English = to do]
--> fill (catalán) --> hijo (castellano); [English = son]
--> formiga (catalán) --> hormiga (castellano) [English = ant]

Usually French, Portuguese and Italian follow many of the same routes as latin whereas Spanish has evolved somewhat more. 

3) Gallego – from the region of Galicia in the Northern Spain, its roots also stem from Latin and it shares many similarities to Portuguese, as Galicia was once part of Portugal. It is spoken by between 3 and 4 million native speakers.

4) Euskeraotherwise known as ‘Basque’. Spoken in the Basque Country in the North of Spain (and also parts of Southern France) by roughly 665,800 people (614,000 in Spain and 51,800 in France). The origins of the language are hard to trace as it has little comparative similarity to any other language.

5) Valencianospoken in the Valencian Community. Officially considered a dialect of Catalan although some people in both regions would like to think they are different languages. In the region of Valencia there are around 1,300,000 people who speak it as their mother tongue and 3,500,000 who understand it. Sadly it is gradually disappearing from the cities of Alicante and Valencia where the majority of the population speak primarily Castellano. 

(As mentioned before, other variants of the Catalan language do exist - e.g. Majorcan – but for the purposes of this article I have only explained those dialects spoken in Catalonia and Valencia.)
After having spent 3 months in Spain, I feel like I want to share my own opinion on certain issues. Any criticisms and comments are welcomed! I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know some very special people in the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia and they have opened my eyes to the ins and outs of the issues that are raised about the Catalan language and other minority languages in Spain. It seems to me that many Spaniards have a problem with being spoken to in Catalán in Catalonia, Valencià in the Community of Valencia, Gallego in Galicia or Euskera in the Basque Country. Here is a link to a very interesting video where Cristina Almeida (a Spanish politician and lawyer from the east of Spain) speaks about her views: 


Sorry to the English speakers who cannot understand Spanish. Basically, she speaks about her intolerance for the typical attitude of Castellano speakers who say “speak to me in Castellano” when they go to a region that has a different language as its mother tongue. I share the opinion that if you go to any part of the world, not just within Spain, then you should be prepared to try and speak the language of that country, region or town etc. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t travel! If it is a matter of conducting business, maybe you can get by on English or, in the case of Spain, Castellano. But surely it's a little closed-minded and insensitive (to put it lightly) of people to go to a place and expect to get by in their mother tongue, or to expect to be spoken to in their mother tongue when it is not that of the people they are interacting with?

If the tables were to be turned, and, say, a person from Galicia used to expressing themselves in Gallego on a daily basis were to travel to Madrid to study, would you expect that person to say “speak to me in Gallego” just because it is their native language or their language of preference? I don’t think so.  Even in the 3 months that I have been in Spain, I have managed to pick up a few words and phrases in the variations of Catalan that exist, and I have even managed to follow conversations, replying to questions I am asked in Spanish. So I see no problem with
native Spaniards being spoken to in Valencià if they decide to travel to a region where it is spoken. It is fair enough if the native to the area decides they are comfortable enough to speak in Castellano. If you cannot reply in the language you are being spoken to in, use your own, but people should not insist on being spoken to in Castellano in the way that they often do.

I fully intend on learning some Catalan while I am here, in spite of the people who think I am crazy. Many think that it is pointless for a foreigner to learn Catalan if they can already speak Spanish. Well, to those people I’ll say this: if I want to learn Catalan, Valencian, Punjabi or Ancient Greek, ¿a tí qué más te da? What does it matter to you? I am choosing to learn it for the same reason that I have learnt Spanish and French; I like languages! I enjoy being able to understand and communicate in other languages. It allows you to discover other cultures and meet new people, so surely there can’t be any harm in that?
What's your opinion?