From Barcelona: Espeaking English

From Barcelona: Espeaking English

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Blogger Jeremy Holland sees his friends back home looking bemused when he speaks and realises his American English has slowly evolved into some sort of Spanglish over time.

One of the interesting changes that comes from living abroad is what happens to your native tongue, especially when it comes to speaking. I recently listened to some tapes from my first month in Barcelona and realised I sound like a completely different person, which might explain why people ask me where I'm from every time I visit the States or meet a recently transplanted American.

A lot of it has to do with the natural evolution that comes from living in a foreign country. In order to be understood, your pace slows, your annunciation improves, colloquial vocab is replaced by more generic words and contractions tend to become complete verbs.

For example, whereas before I might have said: "I'm gonna bounce by my buddy's pad to check out the haps tonight." Now, I would say: "I'm going to a friend's house to see what's happening tonight." In many ways, it's probably a better and more correct English, although judging by the expressions on my friends’ faces back home, it's a foreign way to speak.

What has also happened is a Spanishisation of my English. Gone are many of the niceties and the politeness. There's no more "Would you mind..." or "Could you..." before requests. "What?" becomes a common response when I didn't catch something instead of "Sorry."

The influence of Spanish isn't just reflected in the syntax but also in how I speak. I remember having a laugh on a flight at the Spanish lady who answered the question: "Coffee or tea?" with "I don't like coffee," to which the flight attendant responded: "That wasn't the question."

I probably shouldn't have laughed because I often find myself now offering personal opinions even when not prompted, likewise for being eager to recommend a great location or give unsolicited advice.

In fact, my friends and family back home have commented on this new willingness to eschew diplomacy for directness, which I guess comes from living in a country where it sometimes seems the national pastime is having a loud, opinionated  discussion. Of course, this isn't a bad thing for this is what makes the place lively and animated, but if there's one thing you can't be in Spain: it's meek when you speak.

I've also noticed the longer I've been here, the more English I've forgotten and sometimes forming a basic sentence is a struggle. Meanwhile, bueno, pues, entonces and nada are universally used for stop gap words when I'm searching for something to say, whether I'm speaking to my Spanish wife or my American mom. Most of my cursing is in Spanish with the odd British English expression thrown in and I make the same mistakes as many Spaniards do such as "more easy," " more better," "take a coffee" etc.

Truth be told, listening to myself speak English nowadays, it seems more Spanglish than anything my friends and family speak, the only remains of my American roots being the drawn out vowels and the 'a' for the 'o' as in pot.

But I think this is to be expected when you live abroad. It's not just a new language you learn but also new vocabulary and a different way of speaking your native tongue that can make compatriots ask where you are from.

Before, I used to try and explain that I'd moved from California to Spain. Now, nearly seven and a half years later, it's easier to say I am from Barcelona, to which they almost always reply: "You speak excellent English!"

Jeremy Holland / Expatica

Written by an American expat, From Barcelona is a blog dedicated to the city, the life and the people of the capital of Catalunya (Catalonia).


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1 Comment To This Article

  • Michelle posted:

    on 11th March 2010, 10:24:17 - Reply

    Hehe, great article Jeremy, totally understand where you're coming from :) I'm from the UK and been in Barcelona 5 and a bit years now and do really struggle sometimes to find the right expression in English! Still can't get used to the very Spanish way of interrupting people in conversations to get a word in though :)