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I first began to make a serious effort to learn the Spanish language when I had been living in Spain for about a month.
It was in early February of 2001. I had found a flat in central Seville. When the butane gas canisters hooked up to the water heater and the stovetop were empty, we had to buy replacements. In practice, this meant somebody had to be home when the deliverymen came by. My flatmate Peter was going to classes until mid-afternoon, so I agreed to be housebound until then. Not knowing the day of delivery, I just had to wait in house for a couple of days.
So I sat in the front room with my Larouse "mini" Spanish-English dictionary, and a daily Spanish newspaper.
First, I drew a line under every word I didn't know within an articlewhich was almost every one of them. Then, I looked each of them up, and I wrote the word and the translation in a notebook. Then, when I had a mess of words written in the notebook, I wrote these onto sheets of paper, which I then taped to the wall.
I never really did refer to these sheets much once they were up on the wall; it was more the practice of writing, and then writing again, that drilled many many Spanish words into my head.
During those two days of waiting for the gas canisters, I learned the basis of what would become my Spanish. I continued to practice this method of learning vocabulary after those two days, albeit in the greater comfort of the lovely Café Levies in the Santa Cruz district.
I could never bring myself to study the grammar, and that's something I need to do in order to really have a confident knowledge of the language. But I know a lot of Spanish words, and I think this vocabulary is quite important. I can understand what somebody is saying, given that it's simple and slow enough. (Slow? Yeah right; good luck.) I can communicate, at a basic levelthough my knowledge of verb tenses is weak, of course.
However, the newspaper-dictionary method, being my only studious pursuit of the language, was merely the foundation for the real education I got at Mex Rock Restaurante Mexicano. Here, the owner Mauricio hired me saying that the staff spoke English. They didn't. I have Mauricio to thank for a great deal of my Spanish-language education, though I don't accuse him of good intentions.
Juana and Eugenia were my coworkers in the kitchen and neither of them spoke a lick of English.
Eugenia: "¿Como se dice cuchara en inglés?"
"Espoom ¡muy dificil!"
But we got along like a house on fire, and I learned to do the job well. So it worked. My Spanish was very poor, but we liked each other and worked well together.
And, that first night, we went down Calle Betis for a beer after work at 3:30 in the morning. "Es muy temprano." the night is young. We did this often.
On many nights we would end up at Bar Alambique and the barman Kiko would do a lockin with us and several others. Those were good times, the long nights of slow beer drinking, a little bit of smoke, music, and conversation. Naturally, I listened more than I spoke; but there's nothing wrong with that in any situation. Eugenia, of a clear Madrid accent and a love of talking, seemed often to think I understood more than I actually did. But that wasn't bad, and it kept things flowing just fine.
And, I did learn some Spanish.
I lived in Seville from December 2000 until June 2001.