Tips to learn Spanish | Interview with Sincerely, Spain
Our blogger Charlotte, on a weekend trip in Granada from Ronda, recently had the chance to meet Dani and Claudia from Sincerely, Spain, to get their top tips for integration in Spain, their local insights on Granada as well as their experience of learning Spanish in Spain.
Entrelenguas: So, Sincerely, Spain, tell me a bit about yourselves! What’s the bio? How you know each other, what you do, where you’re from, how long you’ve been here, etc.
Dani: Well I’m Dani and I’m from Chicago, and I would say this is my fourth year here. I’ve been back and forth. I initially studied abroad in Alicante in Spain, and then came back to Granada after I graduated, to teach here at a school. That’s when I met Claudia, at an intercambio, or rather, language exchange, but then also just through friends. We kept getting thrown together, so we like to laugh and say that we’re just friends because all our mutual friends left! [Laughs.] But… slightly!
Claudia: Slightly! [Laughs.] Yeah, so I’m Claudia and I’m from Wisconsin, and I moved here when I was 21 to study my degree, and basically just haven’t left! I’ve also been back and forth but this is my sixth or seventh year in Granada and that would be my seventh or eighth year in Spain. I work on EU funded projects with the foundation of the University of Granada, which sounds cooler than it is.
E: Why Andalucía?
D: I think for me, more than Andalucía in general, it was Granada, specifically. When I was studying in Alicante, my programme did a weekend trip here and after seeing Granada for just 2 days, for me there was something more to it. So I just wanted to come back! So I did a programme, which wasn’t auxiliares directly, it was actually CIEE’s Teach in Spain, programme (Council on International Educational Exchange), and they do study abroad and teach abroad programmes, which you have to pay for, but you get a really good chance of being placed where you want, and that’s how I got to come back to Granada.
E: And what about you, Claudia? You came here for your studies, right?
C: Right, and because my parents decided to move here in 2009. They wanted to move to Europe, they wanted a Spanish speaking country, Europe because my mum’s actually from Manchester – so, Spain! And Granada because they speak Spanish, it has a really good university community, and it’s not expensive to live here.
E: Do you find that the university community has been a key factor in shaping your experience in Granada?
C: I think that’s an interesting question because obviously the university community brings so much: you have a lot of young people, you have a lot of nightlife, a lot of cool activities and cultural things, but at the same time you have a lot of people who come, do Erasmus for a year and then leave, you have a lot of people who are only here to study, so that makes it difficult.
D: I would say the same.
E: Next question’s a biggie! How integrated would you say you feel on scale of 1-10?
C: 8.5/9! I mean obviously my experience here is really different from the normal experience of foreigners that are here. I studied here so I made friends with people in my class, I play football, so I have a group of guys that I play football with that are all Spanish guys, mostly local from Granada, and I’m in an association with all Spanish people, 75% from Granada. I have a lot of connection to this city. My little brother did his last years of high school, so like 6th form, here, which allows for a different level of integration. So to study and then go to university you meet different people, you meet local people and your integration is really different.
D: I would say I’m definitely not that integrated. Probably 5/6. I feel like I’ve had moments where I would say I was more integrated than that, like when I was living with Spanish roommates, when I was working in an academy, and working with Spanish people regularly, but nowadays I live with my fiancé, and I’m working from home, and so, it takes effort to be integrated and I don’t feel like this year I’ve been putting in that effort.
E: So integration requires a lot of work.
C: Sooo much work!
D: Yeah, definitely.
E: Are there any concrete things that you would recommend people do to be more integrated?
D: I would say absolutely live with Spanish people. I think that’s huge. If you’re studying abroad and have the opportunity to use a host family homestay, I would say that’s my number-one recommendation, and if not then roommates. But with roommates it depends cause you might get the “Spanish experience” but often they’ll be university students, and so they might not be from your city, if that makes a difference to you.
C: Yeah, because it’s totally different to meet people from Granada than to meet people from Madrid who are studying in Granada.
Dani: Exactly. For example, if you meet people from Granada here they might invite you to stay with their family or spend Christmas with their family, do Sunday lunch and other students don’t necessarily do that.
C: Put yourself out there, emotionally, as well. You have to be willing. If someone says to you, “hey, let’s grab a coffee,” and you’re like, “yeah, let’s!”, to work really hard to even set up a date to grab a coffee, and then they might still cancel on you and that doesn’t mean anything. You have to think, even if they cancel on you an hour before you’re supposed to meet, that that doesn’t mean they don’t want to see you, that just means that doing that isn’t weird for them. And so you have to ask again, and you have to put yourself out there, emotionally, to be rejected.
E: Definitely gotta be aware of all these little cultural differences. Is there anything more specific you think people could do?
C: More specifically, join a sports team or a gym or take a painting class, do yoga, whatever you like to do, integrate yourself into their daily life. If you integrate yourself into the daily life of a Spanish person they are more likely to recognise you and say let’s be friends.
D: And I would also add as a precursor to that, that the Couchsurfing community is really helpful. Because there will be more foreigners with Couchsurfing, and I feel like it’s really easy to meet other people who aren’t integrated and then just get caught. But that is important, too. I do think it’s important to have those friends, but I mean, you will meet Spaniards there, and then it’s everything Claudia just said, you will still have to push your way in.
E: Could you put a number on how long you think it takes you to really settle and start to call a place home? For this to stop being your new life and start just being your life?
C: I think it really depends on your level of integration. For example, I see my brother and he probably did it in a year, or less. It depends on your age, where you are in life, who you’re spending time with. I probably took 2 years to feel pretty integrated but to get to where I am right now, I’d probably say 4. The friends that I have now, even last year, I wasn’t super close to. It’s a process.
D: Yeah, I would agree that it definitely depends on the circumstances, because I studied abroad for 5 months and I don’t feel like I got there, I taught abroad for 9 months and I still don’t feel like I got that far, but then the next time I was here for a school year I certainly felt that I did. I don’t know if it was an accumulation of the previous experiences or if it was the roommates I had who were actually my friends as well, so I was spending a lot of time in Spanish. I think you need all the right circumstances to come together.
E: On that note, then, do you feel like all of the onus is on you to integrate?
D: A lot of it, yeah, like 80%.
C: Yeah, like I say this a lot: people that live here don’t have any reason to reach out to you and be your friend, unless you can prove to them that you’re worth it. Cause you’re here for what, 6 months, a year, 2 years? It’s really hard. As someone who’s said goodbye to friends over and over and over again, it’s really hard to get people to make that investment unless you can show them, ‘Hey, I’m over here, I’m really cool, I’m worth it.’
E: And how’s your Spanish? Don’t be modest!
D: Are we doing like a scale?
E: Ok so could you sit at a table and have a meal surrounded by Spaniards and play an active role in the conversation?
C: [Laughs.] Welcome to my life!
D: Yeah, you can!
C: Yeah, my life is in Spanish. So I can sit through 6 hours of lectures in Spanish and I just spent like 6 hours working with a bunch of Spaniards on a project exclusively in Spanish. I have probably, a C2 level, although I haven’t taken the exam. Like obviously it’s not perfect, I still make mistakes all the time with the little things!
E: Would you say the same Dani?
D: I’m not at C2 level! It’s hard to say because I feel like it’s changed a lot, and as I said before I’m not necessarily focussed on that right now, but I’m definitely a B2! But I don’t know if I could like…
C: For sure more than B2! Definitely a C1!
D: Yeah, I suppose! I feel like I can assert myself when I need to, but sometimes I just don’t have the emotional energy.
C: Oh my god, yes!
D: Like if I don’t care about the conversation, and I know I’m going to be talked over anyway, then I just don’t bother. But like when we were in our meetings for the marriage paperwork and the woman was telling me it was the wrong thing, I was like “No it’s not!” [Laughs.] And I think she was very surprised that a foreigner was actually asserting themselves. Sometimes, I think, certain people will expect that you don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s really frustrating, and it can either bring you down or make you even better! And it made me better, being frustrated.
E: So then depending on who you hang out with, does that affect your Spanish?
C: Oh God yeah! I have a lot of friends from Granada, and so there are certain things I say, and when I speak Spanish with someone who’s not from Granada they automatically assume that I’m from here.
E: Wow, so your accent is that good!
C: And my accent’s not even that good when you compare it to my brother. You literally cannot tell he’s not Spanish. But that comes from spending a lot of time with people from here. For example, I can tell when people spend a lot of time with Latin-Spanish speakers. If you learned Spanish in Argentina, I can tell, and if you learn Spanish in Malaga, for example, people can tell.
E: How do you balance your cultural immersion with keeping in touch and connected with old friends and family? Since your parents are here Claudia, it must be easier for you, right?
C: I mean yes, and then no! I have a lot of friends that I’ve lost contact with. Since I left the US I’ve lived in 3 different countries in 5 different cities and I’ve made connections in all those places. There are always a lot of people you wish you could stay in contact with and it’s just not feasible. So I also feel like on the one hand it’s really easy, cause my family’s here, but on the other hand I don’t have to make any effort with the people that I grew up with because they’re back there, and I have no reason to go back.
D: I feel like I am that person who does spend a ton of time talking with friends from home. My best friend happens to be on a job-hunt right now so she’s not working, and so we will have two-hour long Skype calls every single week. Same thing with my parents. And it’s not constant, but I’m pretty consistent with that
E: So there’s a part of you in Chicago still?
D: Yeah, there definitely is.
E: On a lighter note, what are your top tips for a weekend trip to Granada? Give us the local knowledge!
C: YOU HAVE TO SEE THE ALHAMBRA! Because, outside of Istanbul, I’ve never seen anything like the Alhambra. It’s incredible. If you don’t have the money to see the Alhambra, or the time, you can still go around the outside. And you can go around some bits for free! And go to the Corral de Carbon. After that, my top thing would be San Miguel Alto, which is a viewpoint of the city. It’s quite a hike but I personally think it’s worth it. And you can get there by bus, as well, although I’m not sure which bus.
D: I would say two things: definitely walk everywhere. Granada is small enough that you can go everywhere that you want to check-off on your list, on foot, but there’s still so much to see on the walk. Getting lost is the best thing you can do in Granada. And besides that, I would advise you to know the Spanish eating schedule! Because if you go to a bar at 6pm then you’re not going to get any free food, but if you go at 9pm you’ll get free tapas! So it’s important to know that between 1 and 4pm, for lunch, and 8pm till midnight for dinner, sometimes 9, it depends, you should be getting free tapas. It’s very unusual for a bar not to do it.
C: Yeah, I don’t think a bar could survive here without free tapas. Everyone’s so used to it.
E: Would you recommend any flamenco?
C: There are a lot of tourist shows. I’ve been to 3 or 4 and I feel like most are pretty good! To be able to dance flamenco, and you’ll see this when you watch it, you have to like it. There’s no way in hell you’re dancing flamenco if you don’t like it. I’ve also seen private shows, which are really good, but you have to know people who know people, or be related to a school that’s organising something. But I feel like most of the tourist shows are actually pretty good!
D: Yeah, I’ve taken pretty much everyone who visits me to the Chien Andalou. I think it’s really good. I would get your tickets in advance, like you can get it on the same day, you can go like an hour before, probably. But I would recommend paying for the front row, it’s 12€ instead of 10€ and you can literally feel them hitting you with their dress as they twirl around. You feel very much in it. And like Claudia said, it’s a tourist attraction but it feels authentic.
E: So, what are you doing 5 years from now? Still in Granada?
C: 6 months from now I’m not in Granada! I’ve got an upcoming project in Finland. But in 5 years, maybe!
D: I think so! I feel pretty settled here, my fiancé just bought an apartment here, so I think we’ll be here in 5 years!
E: Well, guys, thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure to speak to you, and please keep on writing the blog!
Claudia: You too. Don’t worry the plan is to keep running it!
Dani: In 5 years it’ll still be going strong!
Relate to anything mentioned in the article? Have any other integration advice for foreigners in Spain? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org with your proposal! Tips to learn Spanish.