For most people starting to learn a new language, is like staring at a totally blank wall in front of them. I always think if someone could invent a system where you had a cd player in your head, and you could load the disk in and start talking it would be so easy (an episode of Startrek coming up here!)
From being a baby, language is generally straightforward, sound repetition, signage and facial features all contribute to the awakening of communication. As we get older that level of absorption seems to be blocked out by the information already stored in our minds.
When we first moved to Spain my knowledge of French was much better than Spanish and so every time I wanted to communicate something I kept coming up with the French response; eventually, the French were removed by the Spanish.
Fear, particularly of making a fool of yourself, is another obstacle and I find in general although not always, women seem to jump into the language waters, much easier than men. Here in Spain amongst many of the couples I know, the women seem to tackle the language more enthusiastically than the men, my theory being that women are used to making fools of themselves!
The consequence is that the men will say, “Oh my wife speaks Spanish” and this relieves them of the knot in the stomach experience.
What I have found in my time in Spain and still do so, is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get it exactly right as the Spanish people get the gist of what you are saying and don’t make a big fuss if it is not grammatically correct.
This brings me to a simple phrase, “I LIKE TO BE IN THE KNOW.” Here we have three verbs, which in spoken English can be used individually in many different situations but in Spanish, you have separate verbs, which clearly mark what the speaker is talking about.
“TO LIKE” can be Quierer or Gustar.
Querier is general as in “¿que quieres?” “what would you like?”
Gustar is about enjoyment, so “me gusta mucho chocolate”
“I like chocolate a lot”
“To Be” has two versions Ser and Estar
Estar is used in general terms where the situation is not permanent
i.e. “estoy consada” “I am tired”
“Are you working?”
“is he/she happy?”
Ser is for fixed situations
i.e. “soy carol” “I am carol”
“¿eres ingles?” “Are you English?”
“es casada” “ he/she is married” ( yes, I know in these days, but it is still a permanent state)
Finally “To Know”
Conocer and Saber
Conocer is related to people places and locations
ie. ”¿conoces un buen hotel?” “do you know a good hotel?”
“conozco Este zona” “I know this area”
Saber covers everything generally, so you have
ie.”¿sabes algo?” “ what do you know?”
“no lo se” “I don’t know”
The reason I have highlighted these verbs as examples is that you use them all the time, and you will make mistakes in the context, until you become familiar with them, but it is fine. No one will make a fuss about it or make you feel stupid because they will understand what you mean.
Generally, in life, we learn from our mistakes and it is the same with language, don’t be afraid of it. If you do and use it as the excuse to stop adding words to your vocabulary, you will cheat yourself of the joy of being part of your experience in Spain.
When I go to our Sunday market, I am part of the scene, the stallholders that I use regularly know me and we talk, not world-changing discussions but enough to make me feel I belong here and am not an outsider looking in.
I have grabbed my courage over the years to make jokes with my Spanish neighbours, with enough knowledge to make them understand me and have been rewarded by many lovely gestures in return.
Therefore, courage in hand, ready to laugh, off you go!
Suerte! Good Luck!