Ya te digo: speaking Spanish - from introvert to extrovertido

Ya te digo: speaking Spanish - from introvert to extrovertido

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Our new blogger, Ivan Larcombe, writes about how learning and speaking Spanish has affected his personality.

As you will notice from the title of this article, there are some words in Spanish that are very close to their English counterparts. Maybe that’s why I have heard many people say that Spanish is an easy language to learn. And yet, none of those people actually speak Spanish themselves, so I can’t put much stock in their opinion.

I can’t really comment on whether Spanish is easier to learn compared with other languages, but I can tell you that it’s not always a simple thing to start using your fledgling language skills in a real-life environment. Anyone who has studied a language in a classroom will tell you the experience differs greatly from meeting and talking to people por la calle (in the street).

Ivan enjoying a moment with his son.I’m not trying to strike fear into the hearts of Spanish students or dissuade people from using their burgeoning Spanish in the real world; far from it. In fact, back in 1997 when I first moved to Spain, I found the unique challenges of communicating in a second language immensely enjoyable and enlightening.

Curiously, I was taken back to those early days of learning Spanish through a conversation with a friend recently and discovered that her experiences were virtually opposite to mine in many ways. Yet we both ended up integrating ourselves into Spanish society and happily speaking the language with confidence. (Mine grew rusty in my decade-long absence but I’m now working to get it back to that level.)

What I took away from that trip down memory lane is that both introverts and extroverts alike can learn a new language and benefit from the experience.

Lara, the extrovert
My friend, Lara, arrived in Spain when she was 18 with a personality and level of self-confidence that made her an undeniable extrovert.

In many ways, this seems the best starting point for language acquisition. She wasn’t about to suffer from the intense embarrassment that many feel when they attempt to speak with the clumsy tongue of a novice. She wasn’t the type of person to dread making a mistake or fear social rejection. For her, wouldn’t Spanish truly be ‘easy’ to learn in many ways?

I, the introvert
Before we examine her experience, let’s take a look at mine. I wasn’t extremely shy when I arrived in Spain at 21, but I was definitely in the introverted range of the personality spectrum.

For me, embarrassing myself by saying something silly or inappropriate was too mortifying for words and I lived with a constant, if not always acute, fear of it. How in the world was I going to cope with the constant stream of ‘stupid mistakes’ that are unavoidable for people grappling with a new language?

I was a diligent Spanish student, though I never took a formal class. I was seldom parted from my pocket dictionary (I even had it with me at nightclubs and discos – what a geek.) and referred to it constantly. I annoyed all my coworkers with a barrage of questions about the colloquial expressions that they used. I made countless mistakes but quickly became adjusted to the idea that there was no way around it. I learned to swear like a sailor from my roommate and, well, I managed.

Changes that followed
In fact, I adjusted so well to this new need to talk and practise at all costs that I soon found myself moving quickly towards the extroverted end of the personality range. By the time I had a decent command of Spanish, I was ready to talk to any and everyone who would listen. And I did.

Lara, on the other hand, took a sharp turn into the realm of introverts when she was building up her Spanish skills. Coming from the easy exchanges that her out-going nature made so natural for her in her native English, Spanish was like a gag. Now she wasn’t the funny one, or the charming one; now she wasn’t the centre of attention.

It took Lara a long time to build up the freely social part of her personality, in Spanish. Now she's one of those few people who seem absolutely the same speaking in different languages.
My wife, on the other hand, is always laughing at me when I speak Spanish. It’s not because of the grammatical errors but the way I express myself when I change languages. I have managed to tone down the swearing in Spanish but I remain much more extroverted when speaking my second language.

Where in Canada I seldom engaged in long exchanges with store clerks or other casually encountered people, I have been known to actually stop people in the street here in Valencia to comment on something interesting, like a jacket with ‘Canada’ written across it. Katie, my wife, calls it my Spanish side and never tires of teasing me about it.

I should mention that I also had my weary moments when I was tackling creating a life for myself in a foreign tongue. It wasn’t all a grand waltz towards the free and easy. But it was well worth it. As it was for Lara as well. Although I find the contradictions in our experiences truly interesting, I can say without the shadow of a doubt that we are both so much better off for them.

So, don’t be shy... or do; it doesn’t much matter. Get out there and learn another language and explore the strange and surprising experience of being yourself in a slightly different way. If you’re not sure which language is right for you, they say Spanish is easy to learn...


text: Ivan Larcombe / Expatica
photos credit: Katie Mead

For Ivan, all roads lead to Valencia. It wasn't until recently that he realised this and moved there, but with the typical clarity of hindsight, it's all quite clear now. After living in Madrid for nearly three years, he returned to his native Canada in 1999 and chose a Hispanic Studies programme at university. He then undertook a series of completely unrelated professional and returned to Spain in 2008 poised to pursue a life-long passion for writing with a focus on the city and region that have captured his imagination completely. You can read about his experiences on his blog - Ivan in Valencia -  and on various other sites, including a fortnightly blog, Ya te digo, to Expatica about life in Spain.

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