Learning a new language through immersion mainly involves not being scared of making a fool of one self. It’s quite amazing how with limited vocabulary, gestures and plenty of pointing you can achieve a lot. And I’ve always had marvelous teachers. I had a wonderful neighbour when I lived in Portugal who taught me the basics of Portuguese for instance, and here in the village villager C took me under her wing.
Galician is a bit like an old style Portuguese, but it’s still very different. Villager C somehow understood everything I tried to say and often translated when other villagers didn’t get me in the beginning.
Within no time I had the hang of basic village speak.
I even learnt names of tools and plants and pig slaughter related terminology in Galician without knowing what they’re called in English.
In a way I’m glad I didn’t learn Spanish before coming here. Although this is Spain, not all villagers, surprisingly so perhaps, don’t actually speak Spanish.
I’ve once witnessed Spanish relatives from another villager coming here who tried to chat to villager S but she kept shaking her head saying she didn’t understand, while I did.
In town people tend to speak more Spanish than Galician and I have picked up a decent level of Spanish too, however, I prefer speaking Galician. Town people are always astonished when they hear “a foreigner speaking better Galician than us.”
When I found my immersion level had reached saturation point, I decided upon doing a Galician course and retrieved books from a teacher from the local school. Faithfully I dedicated several hours a day to the task, learning new verbs and expressions.
One Sunday I (full of enthusiasm) joined the few villagers who, as always on Sunday, had gathered on the bench outside villager J`s house. I was determined to show off my new-found skills.
However, I only got confused faces in reply when I spoke. Why was I speaking like that? Villager S asked me. I explained that this was the real Galician I had learned from a book. He shook his head. “Stop doing that course.” he said. “Just speak like us. Otherwise we can’t understand you.”
Since then, I found out there is actually 3 languages here, Spanish, official Galician and Village Galician. 4 if you take into account that there are regional differences as well.
I abandoned the course.
I’m now fluent in Village Galician. And even though the villagers don’t always entirely get me, at least they understand me.