Speaking Spanish & Embracing the Culture
There is undoubtedly a wonderful lifestyle to be had in Southern Spain. The Costa del Sol, being primarily a holiday resort, has a transient population with many visitors who are obviously unable to speak Spanish. Why should they, when they come to relax for two weeks of the year - to enjoy the fabulous beaches and glorious weather? However, many British and other northern Europeans have lengthened their stay over the last couple of decades and become full time residents. After 10, 20 and even 30 years of living on the coast, an incredible number of British ex-pats still speak little or no Spanish.
In order to fit into Spanish life, savour the flavours and understand the colourful customs, something more than a smattering of Castellano is needed. A country's culture and language are inextricably linked, so without the language you will never get beneath the surface. Admittedly, many native British with no Spanish often secure jobs (especially on the coast and mostly in sales and marketing) based on the asset of having English as their mother tongue. Unfortunately this tends to lead to them mixing with English speaking work colleagues out of office hours, thus increasing the temptation to remain separate from the Spanish nationals. If you speak English at home, in the workplace and then socially, even a token weekly Spanish lesson will hardly help. If you fall into this trap, the job market will always be reduced to positions that do not require Spanish speaking skill. This will be reflected in a lower-than-average salary. To beat the competition, bilingual is better. This will give you the edge and put you in line for better jobs and promotions.
The massive increase in numbers of English speaking residents on the coast and in other parts of Andalucia has led to virtual British colonisation in certain areas. The tendency now appears to be for British families to settle here, with little intention of learning the language from the outset. Shamefully, most Spaniards end up speaking fairly good English. If you live here and are still 'linguistically challenged', stop for a moment and think what you are missing. If you are planning to come to live in Andalucia, put 'learning Spanish' at the top of your 'to do' list.
The best way to learn any language is to throw yourself in at the deep end and stay submerged for as long as you can stand it. There will always be moments of despair and times of hilarity - at your expense. But the pay off comes when you feel relaxed chatting with your Spanish friends and when you are in full control with workmen, lawyers, etc.
A classic faux pas is to say "estoy embarazada". While you might mean to say that you are 'embarrassed', you certainly will be when you realise that you've just told someone that you are pregnant. Do be careful about guessing the meaning of words and just adding an 'a' on to the end and English word. It doesn't always work! Don't laugh too much either if a Spanish friend struggling with English to make conversation with you, suddenly tells you that he/she is "constipated". Rather than suggest prune stew as a remedy for the condition, it is more likely that lemon and honey will do the trick. In Spanish "estoy constipado(a)" means "I have a cold". To help you to avoid you own potential moments of "vergüenza" (shame / embarrassment) studying a bit of vocabulary and grammar can be a great help. Better still, make a point of living the Spanish life and listen and interact with the Spanish people round about you.
General conversation is a good social tool, but even more importantly - without a fairly good level of the language when buying and owning a home in Andalucia - you could land you in deep water. If you are looking for a property on the Costa del Sol, the chances are that you will get by without too much trouble. There are many English speaking estate agents and lawyers who will help you. However, there are times when you will have to pay extra for an interpreter or to have legal documents translated into English, so that you know what you are signing. Also, house prices are generally much higher in the coastal areas than inland.
A prime example of a time when you will want to understand Spanish is at a Community meeting. When a group of houses or flats sets up a Community of Owners to maintain, improve and protect a group of properties, collective decisions have to be made. For Spanish and other nationalities to live peacefully together, a common language is necessary. Nowadays many Communities, especially along the coast, offer bilingual information and in some cases, where the majority of owners are British, the meeting may be held in English. However, all legal documents will have to be in Spanish and so extra cost is added for translations, etc.
On the other hand, if you buy a rural property, you are likely to be confronted with the challenge of a Community Meeting in Spanish. The issues discussed (often in the form of a typically hot blooded argument) will often be very important and may affect your property in some way. Away from the Costa del Sol, you could find yourself being the only British representative and no translation will be offered. Apart from the benefits of enjoying the local social scene, a good level of Spanish will be necessary to hold your own and cast your vote.
If it's true what Actress Lily Tomlin (1939) once said - "Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain", then imagine having that skill taken away. Surely that is incentive enough to learn some Spanish!
Andalucia is one of the most beautiful and welcoming corners of the world and it's perfectly understandable why so many are fleeing the dreariness of the British Isles to be here, but lets not forget to learn the lingo!
Learning the language in situ is a privilege; its fun and it will open doors that will enrich your life. Of course, getting into a foreign lifestyle is frightening for everyone at first, but even a small step like buying your fruit at the small Spanish corner shop (instead of the easy supermarket option) might not only teach you some of the local vernacular, it may also help you to reflect on the art of patience. Spanish life can still travel at an incredibly slow pace - all part of the local picture and ultimately good for the soul! Once you speak Spanish, you will begin to discover some of the secrets behind that perfect blend of hard work, fiery fiesta fever and 'mañana is another day'.