Living in Tenerife – Speaking Spanish: It’s Good to Talk

Posted: August 11, 2009 in Life, Spain, Tenerife, Travel
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Andy and I were completely wiped out yesterday. We were a couple of lethargic sloths and the reason is quite pathetic.  We were exhausted after a weekend of speaking Spanish. Not just any old Spanish, but Spanish in a social setting and that for us is still the most difficult arena of all.

At our neighbour’s BBQ on Saturday night, the languages switched from Spanish to French to English on a regular basis. The Spanish stuck to speaking Spanish which is fair enough, but a couple of the French lads preferred to speak English, so it was a case of constantly chopping and changing as we all sat around one table.
Luckily we both had one those nights when the babel fish actually worked and we had a great time. We even learned a couple of fascinating things about Tenerife which I’d never heard mention of before.

Then on Sunday night, Jesús invited himself and his sister around for dinner.  The return of Jesús is unfortunately temporary – his sister Heather (unusual name for someone from País Vasco) had already booked a two week holiday to stay with Jesús when he decided to leave, so he came back to keep her company.

Jesús speaks perfect English having lived and worked in America, but his sister didn’t so we stuck to Spanish for her sake. And again we had one of our okay Spanish speaking nights. We understood most of what she said and were able to hold a relatively flowing conversation about all sorts of things. There were only a couple of times when my sentences ran into a brick wall as I completely forgot the words I was looking for.

A couple of hours into the evening, it suddenly struck me why we were doing okay.

“You speak very clearly,” I said to Heather. “I can make out every word that you say.”
“Of course,” She replied. “I am from País Vasco.”

The previous night, the Spanish speaking guests had originally come from the mainland and I could clearly make out every word they said as well – which obviously helps when you’re trying to get to grips with a language.

Andy mentioned to Heather that when we first came to Tenerife we could hardly understand anything anyone said despite taking Spanish lessons in preparation.

“That’s because they don’t speak Spanish here,” Heather laughed. “They speak Canario.”

Obviously I know that there are major differences and that Canarian Spanish is closer to South American Spanish, but it was the first time I’d heard someone refer to it as though it really were another language.
She told us that she’d been in Puerto de la Cruz a couple of days before and a waiter had spoken to her, but she couldn’t understand what he was saying and had to ask him to repeat himself a few times before she gave up and said “Sorry, I can’t understand you.”

It’s not the first time that I’ve heard this from Spanish mainlanders. I find it quite comforting to know that although our Spanish is nowhere near as good as it should be, it’s not the only reason why sometimes when we’re speaking with Canarios with particularly broad accents it feels as though in nearly six years we’ve made virtually nil progress.

  1. Chrs says:

    Ah, so that explains my abysmal social skills…

  2. Alison says:

    Lol! I obviously must have learned (still only a beginner though) Canarian SPanish because a recent trip to Barcelona was a struggle with some but not all of those I met there. I suppose when you consider the diversity of accents and dialogues in the UK this is only to be expected throughout the world! Even here in Wales we South Walians have different dialogues and accents to those in North Wales.

  3. dragojac says:

    It’s true for sure about the different accents. For the past few years I’ve been adjusting the way I spoke to fit in. So ‘mas o menos’ became ‘mah o menoh’, ‘buenos dias’ became ‘buenah diah’ and ‘gracias’ became ‘graciah’ and so on.

    I did this until a Spanish friend corrected me and said it’s ‘gracias’ not ‘graciah’. I countered that it was correct as I was speaking the way they did here and his response made me rethink my policy. He said.

    ‘But you’re not Canarian, so why try to speak Spanish the way they do? I can speak English, but if I go to Glasgow I don’t try to speak it with a Scottish accent. You might be okay here, but go anywhere else and they’ll have trouble understanding you.”

    After that I added the ‘s’ to the end of words again.

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