Córdoba To Jáen – Stumbling Over Words Is Not Good

Today I wanted to get away pretty early to avoid the heat that had caused me to sweat so much yesterday. So last night arranged with Lola to have my breakfast at 8.00am

I had realised that times were an important thing to be able to discuss on my travels. So before I departed, I had a quick look at that topic in “Victors Adventures In Spain”.

It seemed to make sense and appeared relatively obvious what I had to say at the time.

But what I didn’t do, was create a set of flash cards and put them into the Anki App. That was my undoing as far as times was concerned because I have not reviewed what I had covered.

Which of course means I haven’t embedded it into my memory like I have all of the other words and phrases I have learnt.

The idea of what I need to say and how I need to say it is a faint and distant memory. My recall of it is limited to knowing that the information exists and that I have looked at it.

But that’s it!

So my conversations about time are limited to saying “A que hora” (at what time) and only choosing mealtimes that are on the hour. Even then I only use the relevant number on it’s own – in this case “ocho”.

It’s a powerful lesson of the power and importance of repeated reviews using an app like Anki compared to when you don’t use it.

Another Stimulating Conversation Over Breakfast

At just before 8.00am I wandered downstairs and found Lola in her kitchen. She directed me to a table outside in the garden next to the pool I had cooled off in last night.

She brought me zumo de naranja, cafe, tostada, mantequilla, mermelada y un croissant.

In between her trips to and from the kitchen we conversed about a variety of things.

First of all she asked me “La casa – te gusta?” (The house – do you like it?).

A huge sigh of relief passed over me because here was something I not only understood completely but I could also respond in nearly passable Spanish.

“Si, me gusta” I replied because her house was genuinely lovely.

You could see the positive impact my response had on her and this opened up our conversation to other topics.

I remarked how beautiful I thought Spain was. “España es un muy bonito país”.

She asked if I had been before. An easy question to answer with a simple “Si”. Though I did try and be a bit clever and follow it up with “cuatro vez” (4 times).

At this point I rolled out one of the phrases my italki.com tutor had taught me:

“Lo sciento por mi acento. Apprendiendo español por solo cuatro meses”

She responded that she could understand me ok and that she was impressed with how much I could say and understand after such a relatively short time.

I followed that up with “tengo un poco vocabulario”. Not sure if this was grammatically correct, but she understood.

But in hindsight, was that factually correct? Because I know I know at least 800 words.

Shortly after I had to dip into that reservoir of words to pick out another one to use. I had accidentally knocked the coffee pot and some of it had spilled onto the white plastic garden table.

Another Word I Had Learnt Comes To Mind When Needed

Unfortunately it didn’t wipe up very well so when Lola returned from the kitchen, here is what I said:

“Lo sciento por la mancha”.

Saying sorry is always a good thing to do when you make a mistake. I think it helps pave the way for a positive conversation when things have gone wrong. It is also typically British!

La mancha is “the stain”. It is another one of the words on the 625 most frequently used words that I had learnt.

Either way, she waved it away with her hand like it wasn’t a problem.

After breakfast I spent some time capturing my thoughts on my trip in my journal and then got changed into my bike kit in readiness to depart.

Before I left we had a chat about road safety and the perils of riding a bike on the road. I explained how in the UK bikes represented 1% of road users but 20% of road fatalities – all in Spanish.

I think my grammar and pronunciation were sorely strained during this conversation but I did get to use a couple of numbers and the word porcentaje (percentage).

My Hostess Flirted With Me!

Lola was the perfect hostess and absolutely lovely. She was genuinely concerned that I have a safe onward trip. She asked if I would be visiting Córdoba before I left and insisted if I ever returned to the area I should write and tell he and she would show me round.

As I left she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and said that all her clients are also her friends. I can’t remember exactly the words she said, but I did understand what she meant. I also got the impression from the glint in her eye and the tone of voice, that she might have even flirted with me!

When you make an effort to connect with people in their own language, it makes such a huge difference to the quality of the interactions you have with them.

Lola did not speak any English and had I not had a smattering of Spanish, I’d have checked in, muddled through breakfast and then said good bye.

But we managed to connect and converse through her language and the whole experience of my stay was infinitely better because of that.

My conversation with Lola also identified many areas where either my vocabulary or my grammar was deficient. But until I am completely fluent (whatever that means), that is always going to be the case.

Every experience like this just reaffirms what a great idea it was to learn some Spanish.

I am also getting more and more reference points that my approach is working.

More Words Come Flooding Back

Even as I left, a couple of guys turned up and blocked the driveway with their car. Lola said they were “pintores” (painters). I had learnt the word for paint as part of my list and so understood who they were.

I didn’t think her house needed any work done, so I told her so “La casa – no necessita pintura”. Which I hope meant “the house – it does not need paint”. Either way, she smiled.

So it was back on the bike and off I went to my next port of call – Jáen.

After the sweltering heat of my ride yesterday, I decided to take it a little easier and to stop more often.

And so after about 90 minutes on the bike I pulled over at a truck stop near a place called Baena. It was just off the main road, embedded in the middle of an industrial complex of some sort.

I needed to refuel but as it was lunch time and I was hungry, I parked the bike in the shade and went in.

Inside I Fluffed My Lines – Badly!

It was hot, already I was tired and I hadn’t made the mental shift to “speak Spanish”. So when the guy behind the bar came over to take my order I stumbled over the words. It was a combination of poor pronunciation and jumbled word order.

And I was only trying to order an orange juice!

Instead of saying “Zumo de naranja” I think I stumbled and mumbled something like “naranja de zumo”. Heat and fatigue can do that to a person!

I realised immediately that whatever I had said wasn’t proper Spanish. This was partly self awareness with my brain screaming at me “What the….?”. But also the rather bemused look on the face of the guy behind the bar.

A couple of locals were sat on high chairs at the other end of the bar. They looked at each other and then looked at me with one of those “raised eyebrows” type of looks.

Still, I realised pretty quickly what I had done and so corrected myself.

I also recovered by ordering a large bottle of cold mineral water and asking if they had food without meat (“¿tiene comida sin carne?”). This has become one of my stock phrases now and is working really well.

We Had A Good Chat About What I Could Eat

I then got into a conversation with the guy about what I could eat. Tomate, lechuga, cebolla, tuna, quest y aceite de olive were discussed and approved of.

So I sat at a table at the opposite end of the bar and happily glugged away at my orange juice and bottled water (it was very hot and i was very thirsty).

Whilst I was waiting for my food, a woman with a young child came and sat at my end of the bar. I guessed by her age that this was a grandmother out with her granddaughter. The child was about 4 years old.

She was fascinated by me. I suspect she couldnt understand why a grown up would choose to wear so many ridiculously thick clothes in that heat! I could hear her grandmother explain that I was a biker.

She still kept looking at me so I smiled when I caught her eye and bless her, she smiled back.

I don’t have kids of my own but having spent 10 years working with kids of all ages when I was teaching study skills a few years back, I know how keen they are to engage with others.

Could I Learn Spanish From Kids?

“What if I could get her to teach me a new word in Spanish?” I thought.

A genius idea! I could learn something new. I could engage in another conversation in Spanish that wouldn’t be too taxing and have some fun with the family at the same time!

The only only thing bothering me was how to strike up a conversation along those lines without coming across as weird!

Soon the food came and I was presented with a perfect tuna salad. Spanish people are extremely hospitable and go the extra mile to help guests and customers feel welcome. I can’t really imagine a UK truck stop knocking me up a salad if it wasn’t on the menu!

When he bought out the food, he didn’t bring any cutlery. I only needed a fork and so asked “¿Tiene un tenedor? The word for fork was another that was on the list of 625 words I had learnt at the beginning of my journey.

The grandmother had also noticed that and also asked the barman about getting me cutlery. I thanked her and we struck up a conversation.

We talked about where I was going, where I was from, what my journey had been like so far. We talked about my experiences of learning and using Spanish. It was a really nice conversation.

Unfortunately they had to leave shortly afterwards and so I didn’t get a chance to put my idea to the test with the little girl. However as they left I said “Adios” and waved. She responded with a beautiful smile and a cheeky “Adios” as she waved back. So perhaps she might have been a great teacher for me after all!

There Are Opportunities To Speak EVERYWHERE

In my journey so far, I have discovered there are opportunities to practice speaking EVERYWHERE. The key is to take those opportunities when they appear. Practicing doesn’t have to be a deep and meaningful conversation with everyone that you meet. A simple 2 or 3 word exchange counts!

The goal is communication, not perfection.

Perfection will only come after lots of communication.

Even though I missed this opportunity, I have registered it as a possibility in my mind so when something similar appears next time, I can take advantage of it then.

Perhaps I should set a goal of trying to learn something new from every conversation I have in Spanish?

I finished my meal and then asked the barman if I could pay for the food with my fuel. This was important to do because I didn’t want him thinking I was getting on my bike (to fuel up) and running off without paying.

That was ok so I rode the bike round to the fuel pump and had another chat in Spanish with the attendant whilst he filled up the tank. He asked me about my journey and whether I was going on to Morocco. I explained my journey so far and my intended route.

I told him my next stop was Jáen which he said was beautiful and that there was much to see.

It was another one of those conversations where I understood some of what he said and inferred meaning from the rest. I then was able to express myself using the words I knew.

The chat felt comfortable and natural as though I’d been speaking broken, un-conjugated, grammatically incorrect Spanish for years!

Broken Spanish Doesn’t Always Work!

When I went back in to pay, I asked the barman if I could have a receipt. Unfortunately I didn’t know what the word for receipt was. I tried to explain that I needed what I had spent written down for my records.

The message didn’t get across because he got a piece of paper and started to explain the breakdown of what I had spent by writing it out.

It wasn’t exactly what I had asked for but it did highlight a few words and phrases I would need to add to my vocabulary. At least I had tried and whilst it wasn’t the result I was after, I had learnt something.

It’s just about trial and error, reflect and adapt, experience and learn…

Conversations can be very brief and can happen at the strangest of times.

Here’s an example that happened just an hour or so later.

After finding my way to Jáen, I pulled up at a set of traffic lights that were on red. Another biker pulled up alongside me. We were of a similar age on similar bikes. Only he was dressed in shorts, T shirt and trainers with an open face helmet and I had the full double layered protective kit AND gloves!

The biker fraternity is a very friendly one wherever you are in the world and so he nodded and started to speak.

I lifted my visor and then we had a brief conversation about my journey. He asked where I had come from. I told him. He asked where I was going. The only thing I could think of saying was “Un restaurante, dos kilómetros”. He understood and when the lights turned green, he wished me a good onward journey.

And so after another hot day travelling on the bike, I finally arrived at my overnight stopping place – a small restaurant/guest house just south of Jaen.

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