How Do You Start A Conversation With A Spanish Speaker?

I needed to go into town for an Optician’s appointment and get my haircut.

So I thought I would stroll down, drop my shoes off for repair on the way and go sit in a coffee shop and do some learning.

I ordered my hot chocolate (made with soya milk of course) and found a table upstairs, out of the way. Peace and quiet and relative solitude are sometimes quite nice.

My aim was to have a look at a verb conjugation book. I know how to have a good time!

I’d been putting it off for a while because I felt I was making a lot of progress with learning vocabulary.

But I thought away from the distractions of my home office I might be able to focus a little better.

There weren’t many tables free. I’d forgotten it was half term and so most tables were taken with teenagers and young folk. Some were typing away on small notebook computers – dissertation deadlines must be looming.

Others were merely passing the time of day teasing each other and getting over enthusiastic about the slightest thing.

I still don’t understand why most of them have huge gaping holes in the jeans at the knee and thigh level. Any more skin showing and they might as well wear shorts.

But then I suppose older people used to question my drainpipe jeans, doc marten boots and Harrington jacket when I was their age.

At a couple of tables dotted around the upper floor of the cafe there were teenagers clearly on a date. Self consciously sipping their frappachinos through straws, occasionally glancing at each other and then rapidly looking away if they caught each other’s gaze.

When it got too uncomfortable for either one of them, they would open up their smart phone and start thumbing through some app. If both of them did it, I was convinced they were messaging each other having found a medium they were comfortable communicating in.

And then through all of this activity and atmosphere in the crowded upper floor of the cafe, I heard the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat musicality of Spanish.

It cut through the noise like a pneumatic drill through tarmac.

I heard the familiar words “entiendo”, “padre”, “pero”, “puedes” above the general hustle and bustle of the rest of the room.

At least two of the teenage hoard were Spanish.

After trying to locate the source of this energised language I narrowed it down to a pair of teenage girls sat about 20 feet away.

Aha! A speaking opportunity.

Or was it?

Very close to where I was sat were two young Spanish people. I have to assume they were Spanish because of a) the proximity of Spain to the UK and b) I would have no way of knowing if they were from Latin America or not.

This is exactly the sort of scenario that would be perfect for trying out my Spanish.

But how do you strike up a conversation?

Teenage girls approached by middle aged man might be misunderstood and misinterpreted in any language!

But even if you put aside the potential minefield that might throw up, how do you begin chatting to complete strangers without appearing like a weirdo?

I could start the conversation with something like:

“Excuse me, I am learning to speak Spanish can I just practice with you for a couple of minutes?”

That sounds ok.

The trouble is, I don’t know how to say that in Spanish.

I have a few words I can use but by the time I drag them out of the memory banks, my monosyllabic utterances would have probably confirmed (to them) that perhaps they should be worried! Neanderthal Spanish doesn’t really help create good rapport and trust methinks.

With the words I do know, here is what I might have said.

[NOTE – to the purists reading this, I know this is not going to be grammatically correct. That isn’t the point.]

Hola. Aprendo español. Habla con mi por cinco minuto?

That might work.

But then what would we talk about if they agreed?

I could share with them my most recent realisations. They might welcome the news that:

Aquel árbol en la cerro es verde (that tree on the hill is green).

Or maybe they might be pleased to discover:

Hoy es miércoles, ayer fue martes (today is Wednesday, yesterday was Tuesday)

I am sure they would be thrilled with the news that:

El día uno habrá luna llena (on the 1st it will be a full moon)… even if it might not be strictly true.

So whilst the heart is willing, the vocabulary is lacking.

But it didn’t matter.

Because shortly after I arrived, they finished their drinks and left.

….Maybe next time.

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