I: So, you’re from the United States, right? Where are you from?
A: I’m from Connecticut, originally, but I lived in Florida for the past fourteen years of my life.
I: Okay, yeah, (laughs) does that feel long?
A: Yes, (laughs) it does.
I: And um, so what brings you to Galicia?
A: Well, I had a rapid love affair with Spain and I’d searched for a way to stay in this country, and the best way to do that was to teach English. Now, it just so happens I had a passion for teaching, so it went hand-in-hand. I found a program through the Spanish government, and it was the choice of theirs to place me here in Santiago de Compostela.
I: And is this your first year here in Spain?
A: No, this would be my second year here in Spain.
I: Where were you before this?
A: Before, I spent a year in Madrid.
I: Uh-huh (laughs) and have you travelled outside of Madrid and Santiago?
A: Uh, yes. I have been to, okay, let me start at the bottom. I’ve been to Morocco, Portugal, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Luxembourg, and Italy. Yes. That’s all of them.
I: And, um, what languages do you speak, Ashley?
A: Well, English is my first language, obviously, and Spanish is my second.
I: Okay, and when did you start learning Spanish?
A: God, I started learning Spanish in sixth grade at the age of 12 years old.
I: What was that like?
A: A disaster, um.
A: So fortunately I was given the basics of the language, I was taught how to conjugate, general conversation starters, however, the issue was the opportunity to speak the language was not there, and the opportunity to explore the culture behind the language was not there. So, you know, at the age of 12 or 13, when you are a bored child in school to begin with, and nobody offers you a background or an insight to a language, they just say: “Learn it!.. because you have to…” So, the motivation was not really there to be interested in the language to begin with. So, though I was grateful because that’s where I did get the basics, I didn’t get anything beyond that. Any love of the language, any want to learn the language. Just, this is what you have to do, so do it, kind of deal.
I: And so, how long are you taking Spanish in school?
A: So, I took Spanish, um, I would say for a total of three years altogether, because they were divided up into semesters, and they were sporadic and random, so I had to take it when I was about 12, then I had to take it again when I was like 14, and then one more time at 16 or 17. Um, so it was very, um, broken, and it was very inconsistent. So.
I: It was kind of fragmented.
A: Extremely fragmented, yeah, extremely fragmented.
I: Yeah and you said you had to take Spanish here, blah blah blah, what do you mean by you had to take…was it a requirement?
A: Yes, it was required. It was, um, a part of the school’s requirements to receive diplomas or graduate, etc. And that was the way it was presented.
I: Yeah. And did you get to choose Spanish or did you have other languages…?
A: Um, in, the first initial time when I first started experiencing learning second languages, no, Spanish was chosen for me, in high school, I think, if I remember correctly, I had the opportunity to maybe try French or uh, German, perhaps was the other one but because I had had that small background when I was younger, I decided, uh, look, I need to get a C, I might as well take Spanish. And that was how the choice was made.
I: And how would you say you felt about Spanish at that point, when you first started learning Spanish?
A: Um, (laughs), I thought it was a joke. On the first day of class, the teacher came in and she said “Hello, this is Spanish. We’re gonna to learn Spanish. Take out your Spanish books. Ok? Hola. That’s how you say “hello” in Spanish. Let’s see. What other Spanish words do I know?” And it was just kind of like, sure, you’re just so interested and enthusiastic about giving the culture and the background behind this language, I can’t wait (claps hands). So, basically, every Spanish class was just well, I gotta be here, so I guess I’ll go…
I: Yeah. Was, was your teacher American?
A: Um, I think my teacher was an American, but I believe that she did have some form of Spanish background, but I do believe that her nationality was she was born in the United States, she was raised in the United States, so her understanding of perhaps Spanish culture, isn’t as strong as somebody who, um, maybe would have been from a, perhaps, Latin American country or from Spain, but I could be wrong. That would just be my judgment based off my 14-year-old self, so, you know.
I: And so, after, what did you, what did you study in school, in college?
A: Um, in college I took psychology, and I did have to take a language in college as well. I had to take one year of a language in college. And, Spanish was offered, however, I said “no”, because I was sick of people telling me to take Spanish, and I didn’t like it, so I took Italian instead. Why? I don’t know. It’s still part of the Romance language (sic), and they share many common characteristics, so, go figure, but then again, at nineteen-years-old, thought processes again are a little bit different, so I ended up in Italian.
I: Yeah? And how would you say your Italian knowledge is today?
A: Um, my Italian knowledge is horrible, um, when I was in Italy, I kept thinking, I’m gonna understand them, I’m gonna understand them, and it would start off fine, I would hear them and I would be like okay, I can kinda hear that word, but no, but no, it ended up being nothing, it was like no, I don’t know what you’re saying, I have no clue. However, I will say that the only difference between my former Spanish years and taking the one year of Italian in college was that the teacher was native Italian, he was from a small town in Italy, well-educated, learned English, came to the U.S. with his wife, and so he had this, not only understanding of the culture and the language, but a love for it, so, being in his class, even though I didn’t grasp the language well, I did grasp a little bit more of a respect, and more of a love, for that language, and that culture, because he emulated this. He, you know, would tell would us about the little small roads and town markets, and this kind of romantic Italian sunset that he would describe to us, so you were able to, if not learn the language perfectly you were able to get, form a relationship with it, in some way. So that is something I would say was a difference, and it was better.
I: Yeah, so once you graduated from college, um, there’s been some time since then till now. What was your language like, your language learning, and I’m assuming there was a lot of English in there.
A: Uh, yeah. The rest of the time before I came to Spain and started to take the language seriously, was nonexistent. I spoke only in English, I used English all the time, I invented new English words with my friends, um, I can think of a few right now, actually, um but…
I: Any you would care to share?
A: Sure, actually, during college, I don’t know, you probably remember this actually, there was a, um, news clip, I think it was a woman in the South somewhere, and her house caught on fire, and so she got out, thankfully, and she was interviewed by the news, and she said some very colorful vocabulary, what did she say, what she said, oh, she said: “I ain’t grab no shoes or nothing, Jesus, I done ran for my life” and this was something that became a part of my conversations with my friends, like if we were in a hurry, we would say things like “I ain’t grab no shoes or nothing, I just ran for my life” and this would be like “yeah, well, I was in a hurry”, and that would be the whole thing, but to make it more interesting we would use this phrase.
A: So, that was college and the colorful use of my own language that came through. And I didn’t really think I would ever learn Spanish. I really, this transition period, where I was just kinda in college and doing this, I didn’t think I would want to learn Spanish again, I would think about learning Spanish again…until I came to Spain. It wasn’t until I formed a bond with the culture that I felt a desire to learn the language. So, I think for me, that was, uh, that was kinda the link for me. Like, I didn’t really have any want or need to know the language until I started to live amongst the people that used it. And I got to see how, actually pretty awesome they were. And so then, yeah, and then that’s how I ended up wanting to really learn it and really know it.
I: So once you decided that you really wanted to learn Spanish, what did that look like, how did that start, for you?
A: Um, that started in a terraza, in Madrid, (laughs) eating Indian food, um, I was talking to my ex-boyfriend at the time, who was Spanish, and the biggest thing was, his parents did not speak English, at all. His parents didn’t speak English. And I made like a promise, kind of, to them, but also to myself, I was like, I’m going to learn Spanish so I can speak with them. I mean, hindsight, you know, hence, he is an ex-boyfriend, and now that need is probably no longer necessary but it was the beginning, it was the first thing that came from inside of me, that emotionally made me feel like, (snaps), I need to learn this language, it’s imperative that I learn this language, because I want to be able to speak to the people that I care about, and that, intertwined, we all care about each other, so I wanna be able to speak with people I care about and the people that are important to those people in my life. So, that was kind of, the jump off.
I: So, how did you start learning? Just from listening to people around you or did you take formal classes, or?
A: I had a French roommate, in Madrid and I loved her, she’s awesome, I still love her, but I was so jealous of her because she was going to the university and she was taking Spanish classes and she was killing it. She, in like two months the girl was speaking Spanish with our landlord and I was just like “Why? Why?”…and so I sat down with her, and I said, I can’t do this. Like, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Like, why are you so good at this? And the first thing she said to me was that “Oh, well, French is very similar, so it’s easy” And then I was like, okay, um, let’s go beyond that a little bit. And she was like “you need to listen to music, and you need to watch movies, and television, and you need to do it in Spanish, and you need to do it with Spanish subtitles, no English, you need to stop using English. She said, when you are with me we can speak in Spanish, but you need to stop using English. So at first, I was really apprehensive, it was hard to let go of the language I was so comfortable with, and expressed myself so well in, but I started watching a show, (laughs), a Spanish show called El Internado, and it was the first time I could kind of relate to characters and I could pick up accents, and I, it was really hard at first, but then I started to realize, holy shit, I can understand them, like, I know what they’re saying, I’m reading the subtitles, but I know what’s going on, and it was that kind of like, ah-ha moment, where I was like, oh, this is possible, this is possible, and then I did that for a long time and I kind of got a little bit stuck, like it didn’t progress from there, I mean, I was super excited that I could understand, um, and I was listening to Spanish music and I was kind of like liking it and enjoying it, but it wasn’t going beyond that, I still wasn’t able to have conversations with people, when my landlord would come to talk to me about stuff, there was a lot of smiling and head-nodding still, and I was still really frustrated, um, and I wanted, I knew I wanted to be better than that. I knew I wanted to start speaking. But I was finding that my opportunities to do so in Madrid were few and far between, um, the city was very well equipped with tons of English speakers from all over the world and any moment that someone got a chance to speak English with me, they did, it was like, I would walk into a shop, I would say “Hola, buenos días” and they would say “Oh, you speak English. You speak with me” and then, I was just like “no, I’m trying to learn Spanish, and I’m, you are not paying me, so no, no”, so it was, it was frustrating, and it got really frustrating after I started to have some Spanish friends, because it was really noticeable that I was spending a lot of time at the tables just sitting, smiling, and nodding, and I was like this is not working, this is not working, this is not what I need. And um, so there’s like these weird sayings, you know, where you say “ask and you shall receive”. Well, I asked, and I kind of received…because after this little spout of frustration I was placed here in Galicia. And I talked to a lot of my friends from Madrid and they were like, well, good luck, because they don’t speak any English there really, I mean, you can find people who speak English, but I’m gonna be honest with you, they’re few and far between. And, at first I was scared, but I was also thinking, this is probably what I need, this is probably what needs to happen, for me…and, um, and in hindsight, it was, it was what exactly I needed. Now, I consider myself a Spanish speaker. I have gone from “Estoy aprendiendo español”, like, I have gone from I’m learning Spanish to like let’s speak in Spanish, we can speak in Spanish, we can have conversations, I can communicate with you, this is fine, I have gone on dates with Spanish men, and spoken in Spanish with them for the whole time, and they were either foolish enough to stay around or actually enjoyed my company, so that tells me that my Spanish has improved greatly, um, I still feel like there’s another level for me, I still feel like, um, I want to understand better, I want to express myself better, definitely would like to have some more in-depth conversations, the weather is a wonderful topic, however, I do feel that there are other topics out there, that I could touch on in Spanish and I would like to try and do that, um, so, I’m not really sure where to go next with it, but at least I know that now I have the basis and I could go anywhere and um, speak with people, and converse with people, and continue to practice. So, that’s about where I’m at with that one.
I: Yeah. So, would you say that, uh, your relationship to Spanish has changed in terms of, uh, “Spanish being a joke” to now?
A: (laughs), yes, yes. If you, if you, told me at 13, or 12, 13, or whatever it was, on that first day of Spanish, and you said to me, “listen, you’re gonna wanna pay attention, because you’re going to use this one day, a lot”, I would have probably looked at you and thought you were crazy, I probably would have said “never in a million years would I ever use this”, and it actually probably would have gotten progressively worse as time went by, if you came to me at 16 and said “pay attention, you’re gonna wanna know this, you’re gonna use this one day”, I again, would have thought you were absolutely nuts, even in college when I was sitting with that admin professor and he was like “what kind of language course do you want to take, because you’re gonna need a language” and you said to me “take Spanish, because you’re gonna wanna, you’re gonna need it” and I would’ve again been like “No, I wanna take Italian”. I would have never in a million years have thought that I would be here, desperately wishing I had paid attention, in those stupid Spanish classes, so, so yeah, I definitely think my relationship has changed with the language, for sure. Absolutely.
I: So, how do you feel about Spanish now?
A: I like it. I love the challenge it offers, um, me, not just, uh, linguistically, but also personally, I feel like it, um, it makes me use parts of my brain that I didn’t really think I could. I always kinda was like “I’ll never read a book in Spanish”, and as a matter of fact, I just finished a book in Spanish, mind you, it’s probably a book for 7- or 8-year-olds in Spanish, but listen, a book in Spanish nonetheless, I’m counting it—it counts. So, it has, um, changed me on so many different levels, so many different levels. So yeah, I definitely do think it’s been a valuable, resource to me.
I: And at home, what do you, what do you generally speak?
A: At home? Uh, like in the U.S.?
I: Uh, whatever you call home now.
A: Holy shit. Um, okay, home. Well, so, depends on which home I’m at, at the moment. If I’m living with a Spanish family, I speak to the adults in the house in Spanish, if I’m speaking with the children in the house I speak in English. This is just because, um, the children, the parents want the children to be exposed to English, and that’s okay with me, that’s fine. Um, when I’m in Santiago de Compostela with my roommates, it depends, if I am with my, um, Spanish-speaking roommate, I 100% of the time speak Spanish with him, if I’m with my, um, English roommate, it depends, uh, sometimes we have moments where we say like, okay, let’s speak in English, and we do, and there’s other moments, where we’re like, let’s try, let’s speak in Spanish for a while, and we do, we do however go back to English, it tends to be our fallback, but I think that’s because this is the common language we share from birth, so it’s harder, I notice that it is harder for me to speak in Spanish if I know that someone has a strong English background, I’m not sure why (laughs), but I just, I, I, from everybody from friends to colleagues, if I know that they have a decent level, I’d say, perhaps, B2 and up, of English, I’m going to speak in English with them, it’s just, unless they force the conversation in a different direction, it’s just, what, you know, English is kind of like my safety blanket, it’s what I know the best.
A: So that’s what happens.
I: Yeah, that’s fair. And you’d say, you think in…? What language you do think in?
A: Okay, so this has been a fun one. Generally, I think in English, but when I’m frustrated or upset, or angry, I tend to think in Spanish and I tend to react in Spanish.
I: Hmm, how do you, what do you mean by that?
A: Um, let’s see if I can give an example here. Um, so the other day, my umbrella broke, and you know, at first I was like “Ugh, damnit” I said an English word…but then it started to rain harder, and the English stopped, and it was like (louder) “esta mierda la…” it was in Spanish, I was so angry, and I was all upset, in Spanish, and I was, and it was naturally coming out, just like I was saying things like, well in Spanish, it’s hard for me to do it right now, but I was saying things like “I can’t believe this. This is ridiculous. Like, duh-duh-dah-duh. Like, what is going on? This stupid umbrella is a piece of crap and now it’s raining…” and this was all happening in Spanish…which is kind of weird.
I: Yeah, how do you feel about that?
A: It’s kind of weird. Um, I kind of like it. I think it’s kind of cool…because that does mean that it’s a part—that I carry the language with me—that it’s a part of who I am. So, I like it a lot. Other people tell me that it’s really strange, because, they’re, they’re like, “well that’s weird, because most of the time, people react in anger in their native language and they’ve given me examples of friends and people they know and duh-duh-dah-duh… Well, I don’t. I react in Spanish; I don’t know why…. maybe it’s more fun, just don’t know, um, but I like it. I do. I like it. I think it’s like this new, like, it’s like you know, when you buy a new pair of shoes or something and you feel like, ooh I’m a new person, this is like, kind of like, my like, new pair of shoes.
I: Yeah. I like that. Yeah. And would you say you have a favorite language?
A: A favorite language? So this one is interesting because it depends on the topic. If you wanna sit here and talk politics and deep, environmental issues, and policies, and things of this nature, I’m going to say English is my favorite language, because I have the vocabulary, but as far as, um, creativity and enjoyment, and the diversity and fun in the language, Spanish does this for me, I like the way that they, um, they combine words together, and they use these wild expressions to, um, create emotion behind, behind, what’s happening or what’s going on, and I also find that there’s a lot of physical expression that goes along with their language that’s not present as much in English, um, they speak with their bodies and their movements and their heads, just as much, if not more, than they do with their mouths, so I think that’s really cool…and um, I’m still trying to pick up on tone in the language, I still, sometimes it’s, sometimes I can’t really tell if two people are angry at each other or if they are, just, kind of having an excited conversation, sometimes I still, it takes me a minute to pick up, I have been in situations where I have been like “Oh, this is not a happy conversation. They’re not…that this is, that this is bad…oh, this is bad…okay, okay…bad. Bad”, but I think that there’s more creativity in this language, and that’s what draws me to it, so there’s different aspects, to both of them.
I: Okay, that’s fair. And um, what other, you’ve mentioned, um, Italian, English and Spanish, have you had any contact with any languages beyond those three?
A: No, not really to the point where I can say that I have learned and studied and focused on them. My roommate was French, so, besides a few cute little French words here and there, um, that would be probably the next language that I would be exposed to. Um, her mother spoke French when she would come to visit and when she would stay in the house with us, um, so that was really cool and I went to visit them over the Christmas break and it was a good little taste of the French culture and the French people and it was the best way to get it, and yeah, French would be a language I would consider learning in the future as well, I would have no problem picking it up, however the accent…whew…that’s gonna be… (sighs)
A: Oh, yeah. Uh-huh.
I: You feel a little daunted?
A: Yeah. That one is definitely, 100% daunting. That is 100% I am scared.
A: Yeah, definitely.
I: And um, so, you’re here in Galicia…and, um, they have a language that’s specific here to this region, Galician, what is your, um, interaction with that language?
A: Um, I love it, but it absolutely drives me bonkers. It absolutely drives me crazy…um, not because I don’t have respect for it and love for it, what’s difficult for me is that my focus is Spanish, and I’m really trying to learn Spanish, and I’m trying to pick up this other language, and because my focus is there, when I hear Galician, it’s just…oh man, like, oh man, like…these conversations start great and then I realize, “why don’t I know anything you’re saying right now? Like, I know that my Spanish is not perfect, but I don’t understand you at all”. And that’s when I realize, oh, because you’re not speaking castellano, you’re speaking Galician, and that’s why I don’t understand at all…um but I really do find it interesting, I find the language to be… this unique marriage between Portuguese and Spanish, which would make sense given the location of the region and how close the culture is to the Portuguese coast, and I think it’s actually very cool how they have adapted these two languages and put them together and created this. I was with a friend not too long ago, and he, um, he lived in Brazil for a year or two, something like that, and so he was learning Portuguese, and we went out to breakfast here in the city, and the waitress, um, she said a Galician phrase, and he said to me, he was like, after she left the table, he said, oh, I just (snaps) started speaking (sic-thinking?) in Portuguese, because it had so many Portuguese undertones that I could just naturally bring my Portuguese back, and I thought that was pretty neat because it was like “we’re not in Portugal…or Brazil…” So.
I: Yeah… All right. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Nah, I think that’s all. I think that’s… pretty much the journey. I mean I hope I continue to learn this language, and I hope that maybe one day I do get the chance to branch out and try Galician, try Catalan, try some of these Basque country, but, languages (sic), but in the meantime I just, I just want to be able to speak castellano.
I: And how long do you plan on being in Spain?
A: Well, if everything goes right hopefully the rest of my life…that would be ideal, um, but we’ll see. I just don’t know.
I: And do you have a favorite word?
A: Do I have a favorite word? Oh, that’s a good question…hmmm…so…there was one and now I can’t remember it…I do like the word ombligo, I like the word bellybutton, I think that’s a great word, but I don’t know if that’s my favorite word. That one I might have to get back to you on.
I: Alright. Fair enough. Well, thank you, Ashley, for having this conversation with me today and we’ll be in touch.