First Impressions

Yesterday I started my Catalan class.


I’ll set the scene. The building, easily 10 stories or more, is made in the style of Spain’s zero-character architecture, the kind that emerged after the ’50s (or around there). To get there, I walk past Modernist glory on Passeig de Gràcia and down the touristy Ramblas (which doesn’t freak me out as much as it used to now that the number of street performers has been drastically reduced) and finally, through a slightly grimy, slightly seedy neighborhood, Raval, populated with knick-knack shops and gross-ery stores. Today, I learned that “El Clot” means “hole,” and the neighborhood “El Clot” is so-called because it sits in a seemingly indented part of the city. An “arrabal,” from whence the word Raval proceeds, translates loosely as “suburban slum,” and while Raval isn’t quite that nasty, it’s not that far off either…though I’m sure people do find parts of it charming. Aside from the neighborhood though, I am truly astonished at the workings of the Official (a.k.a. publicly subsidized) Language School. It even has a bookstore and a cafeteria (with very nicely priced drinks and food…should one ever be in the neighborhood and need a 2€ café and bocata or 5€ plat combinat.) They teach TONS of different languages and though you can’t learn everything in the classroom, I think the public language school is a brilliant idea, made even more brilliant by the fact that they’re not charging me more for lack of a red passport.

My class is easily the most diverse group of people I have ever been surrounded by. There is someone from 5 of the 7 continents and no more than 2 people from the same country, around 18 of us, total. Oddly enough, the one other American is also named Kaitlin…and has also just finished her Master’s in Spanish, which goes to show that I am simply not as original as I think. There is also someone from Russia, Pakistan, Belgium, Poland, China, Venezuela, Brazil, Italy, Germany…you get my point. It actually makes it more fun because you have to speak in Catalan or your neighbor will simply not understand you. The teacher is the prototypical artsy-looking Catalan (but she’s Valencian, if we’re being picky). She is, basically, what I aspire to be…though my hair color is more interesting and she has prettier eyes. She wears  polished hippie clothes, gestures interestingly, and commands the room with her loud, but not overwhelming, voice. She has those super-short bangs the trendy Barcelona crowd wears and pronounces some words with a Catalan accent, some with a Valencian accent. And…she delivers vocabulary at a rate of 10 words per minute. She is a good explainer, too. This ain’t her first rodeo. I’ve actually already learned two important things from her, pedagogically: it’s okay to do a few longer activities rather than a rapid-fire succession of short activities. I may start to demand more of my students’ Twitter-length attention span. I have also learned that at the intermediate level, you don’t gain anything by explaining things in the mother tongue; apart from the fact that this is utterly impractical in our case, we learn so much more from her descriptions and expressions, etc etc. The words in the text-book are really the least of what you need to know.

Though I hope to gain some degree of fluency in this course, I am still doubtful of how much I can truly learn in 80-hours. I am sure I will improve…but I can smell more classes in my future. Will I be able to have a conversation in Catalan with a perfect stranger? Will I be able to field a question in Catalan at a conference in some point? Will I learn enough to teach a beginner’s class in the Spring (this year or in following years)? It’s exciting to be at this beginning point because the surprise will come on July 25th, when we wrap up, and I will know the answer to some of these questions. Berry Eeenteresting.

And, just because it’s nice to have picture every now and then, here’s N. and me at some cool café Sunday afternoon. Excited for more friends to be coming soon!




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