I arrived in Madrid three and a half weeks ago, determined to finally conquer Spanish. When I stopped by The American Women’s Club (yes, I do stop by “The Club” regularly to gossip with my brethren) to inquire about classes I could take, all the 50-something moms laughed and told me to save my money. The fastest and best way to learn the language was to find a Spanish boyfriend. That’s what they did and they’re still in Madrid 20, 30 years later! I believed them — and was envious of their marital fortune — but I found myself explaining to a group of mothers, yet again, that you can’t just buy a good man as you can an iPod and audio Spanish lessons (though, it turns out, maybe you can Get a boyfriend, but that’s out of my price range).
So I spent many hours in my first weeks walking around Madrid listening to Coffee Break Spanish repeat “Quiero dinero” and “Me gustan los deportes”. And then I would get together with Spanish speakers and drift off after they asked me where I was from.
Then, last Thursday I was out with some Couch Surfing friends and, in our group, there was a weak-in-the-knees attractive man. I tried English first but he didn’t speak a word of it so I figured if I wanted to make this work (and he was really cute) I had to take the plunge and go with Spanish.
I shocked myself. Words and full sentences flowed freely from my mouth and he was understanding me! I was having so much fun talking to him, I was pulling up the depths of my schooling. My friend Eliana, who has been trying to get me to speak for weeks, was staring at me with skeptical disbelief as I blabbered on. As soon as the guy went to the Spanish she cornered me: “Eh, chica! Tu hablas Espanol con un hombre?? And not your close friend and teacher? What’s that all about?”
I can’t say I know how or why speaking to a romantic interest changes the way you know a language. It just works. The man and I email and talk now in Spanish and I flow through the conversations. When Eliana speaks to me, I still stare at her blankly and respond in English. She laughs and playfully hits me.
Unfortunately, attractive Spanish men aren’t readily accessible in most parts of the world. And really, the best way to learn a language is to surround yourself with anyone who speaks no English, so you aren’t tempted to slip into your mother tongue. But of course, romance is the most fun route. I think of this experience getting to know a Spaniard in his native language as yet another great bonus to living abroad. My incredible six month journey just got even better.