One day…

I was eighteen when I went abroad by myself for the first time. I had just completed high school and my mother, who also comes from a family that loves to travel, encouraged my sisters and me to travel for a year before we would start college. That I got (somewhat) fluent in English, and not Spanish, after an eight-week language course in Barcelona, didn’t matter. Not only had I acquired a taste for traveling – I also got determined to one day master the Spanish language. When I quit my job after a burnout (about seven years ago) and decided to travel the world with my youngest sister, I thought it was the perfect time. While she worked for a few more months to raise the money for the trip, I decided to take another language course abroad. This time I decided to go to Las Palmas (Gran Canaria). Instead of eight weeks, I chose to go twelve weeks. School in the morning and going to the beach in the afternoon. Not only did I have time to recover – I also managed to complete the levels A2, B1 and B2 in three months.

But although I was able to not only practice during the time we spent in South America (about four months!) – but also continued to practice faithfully using DuoLingo – I am still not fluent. Do not get me wrong. I can communicate well with both our guests and the rest of the villagers and it costs me less and less energy, but I still stumble over all the grammatical tenses (of which there are too many). Never mind that Duolingo is the reason I always go from ‘tu’ to ‘ustedes’ instead of ‘vosotros’, while the Spaniards here are usually quite informal and ask me to please not address them with ‘ustedes’.

And now that I have been living here permanently for about seven months (and no longer have to be sent to suffer in Switzerland), I no longer have any excuses. In fact, the sooner I master Castilian, the sooner I can start learning Valencian. Important! Because although everyone speaks Castilian with us, people here speak Valencian to each other. Those who really want to integrate, or (at least) want to be able to follow the conversations, will have some work to do. So to kill two birds with one stone, I have been practicing Catalan from Castilian on Duolingo for a while now. (Whether Catalan and Valencian are the same language depends on who you ask.) Anyway, it’s a start. Moreover, as a purebred “Limburger” (inhabitant of a southern province in The Netherlands with a very different dialect), I can’t really complain about it. In the Netherlands (or actually Limburg) we do exactly the same. Because when I try to figure out what people are talking about when speaking Valencian here, I always have to think of the pastor from Mumbai.

The poor man, who was brought from India to Dieteren (our father’s birth village) a few years ago, also tried very hard to master Dutch. How could he have known that people would not stop addressing him in “Limburgish”, when visiting villagers during a birthday celebration? But where he was told in that same dialect that there is no doubt that he understands it (“det versjtaot geer waal, joa”), here, in Vall de Gallinera, they understand very well that we do not (yet) fully understand Valencian. So until then, there is always someone here willing to summarize the conversation for us in Castilian. “But we’re going to learn it.” My father and I are certain of it. “Un día,” is what my father says next. “En un día?”, one of the neighbors then asks him in surprise. We start laughing. No, not in one day. One day. In the future. When Castilian flows fluently from our lips. Maybe I can book another language course. With classes in the morning and going to the beach in the afternoon. Integration does not have to be annoying or complicated at all. Certainly not if you try to do it in Spain.