“Um… Hassan… urr, coche… cocher…drive… coche… a la bus… station…”
I’m miming driving and pointing in what I think is the direction of the bus station, but may be out into the middle of the desert, stammering the only driving related Spanish word I can remember at the blank faced hotel receptionist. He speaks Arabic, French, Dutch and Spanish fluently but – like most locals in Merzouga, Morocco – very little English. We’re looking for Hassan, the hotel owner, because he promised to drive us to the bus station to catch the only bus of the day, which leaves in twenty minutes. And I’m panicked as I suddenly realise that in spite of what my CV has been proudly declaring for the last seven years, I no longer speak any Spanish.
When I was at school, I loved languages. I learnt French and Spanish and they were among my favourite classes, I did brilliantly in my GCSE’s and I even took my Spanish on to A Level. But, as soon as I left college and started uni, I stopped using both languages. Completely. So when, seven years later, after my “Parlez-vous anglais?” was met with an awkward “No” in Morocco and the receptionist asked if I could speak Spanish, I was surprised to find I couldn’t follow up my confident “Si, un poco” with any other words.
It turns out that speaking a language is not like riding a bicycle. If you stop practising, you will forget how to do it! Luckily, the English-speaking Hassan turned up just in time to help us catch the bus, but my embarrassment in Morocco was a wakeup call. As soon as I was back in England I started re-learning Spanish with a vengeance! In some places I’m completely back at square one; all those verb conjugations and grammar rules. Other areas, like vocab and numbers, seem to have been in my head the whole time: I just needed to find them in there again! I’ve always adored the Spanish language and used to be so proud of the fact that I could speak it – and now that I’m reacquainting myself with the basics I find I’m proud of myself all over again. Learning a language is an incredible experience; it’s so rewarding to find yourself measurably improving each time you practice.
My partner and I love to travel and have been planning our next Big Trip for ages. At the beginning of next year, we plan to backpack around Central and South America, hopefully hitting Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil (in time for the world cup). Since most of those are Spanish speaking countries, it’s more important than ever to me that I get to grips with the language before I go. So I’m thrilled to be starting up with Rosetta Stone’s new TOTALe programme – and I can’t wait to share my journey ‘back’ into Spanish with you guys!
Photo Credit – Pedro Szekely