In my search for something to do instead of journalism now I have accepted that I am grown up, I have started learning Spanish. I’m not sure to what end, but quién sabe (who knows)? Something might present itself.
After some lessons with a wonderful teacher here in London, I booked a week’s intensive course at a language school in Salamanca, a fabulous old university city in north-western Spain, to make a jump in my progress. I was slightly apprehensive, not about the travelling because I know the basics and can order a beer, but how I would deal with being back in school. My fellow students would almost certainly be (much) younger than I.
Because I have learned a certain amount of grammar, I found myself at level B-2, upper intermediate. My classmates probably had an average age of 28 – raised slightly by a late 30- something helicopter pilot Olivier who had just taken his discharge from the French navy. The others were all young women. I opted to stay with a family rather than in student accommodation, first for more Spanish practice and second because I would not have the same evening interests as the 28 year olds.
Parachuted into a group which had been together for at least a couple of weeks, I was welcomed and left to get on with the class. Spanish hours take some getting used to. We started at 9 with two hours of mixed vocabulary, grammar and conversation with Pedro, a short break for the necessary refuelling at 11, followed by an hour of grammar with Salva, and two hours of conversation with Gloria. I then half-ran the 2.5 or so kilometres back to my lodgings for lunch at 3.30! From 7-8, there was an hour on Spanish culture.
During that week, I put more Spanish into my head than I probably had done over the last year. The drawback to stuffing my head so intensely was that I was almost unable to put enough of it together at one time to speak intelligently. This was discouraging, but I reflected that if my classmates thought of me as too old to learn, it didn’t matter. I was not trying to prove anything to them. Very liberating.
And to paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, there are times when age and guile beat youth and a bad haircut. Not that these young women had bad haircuts, but there were mornings when they were clearly having a bad hair day, following a wild hair night. I had been in my lodgings revising.
In no time, the week was over. What are the lessons for an oldster – do it. My Spanish has improved a lot. Don’t worry if no one asks you to go out drinking with them. It’s not personal. Immerse yourself as much as possible. Enjoy yourself. Do not eat chickpeas after 9 in the evening.