Category Archives: language

Conversational confidence (and a splash of Spanglish)

I am on a flight to the island of Santa Cruz on the Galapagos archipelago, and somehow I’ve landed a seat wedged in amongst a lively group of school kids at the back of the plane. Their teacher throws me an apologetic smile before returning to her itinerary in an earnest attempt to ignore flying objects and playful punches. And in amongst the excitement and chaos and chatter I can’t help but smile to myself. Why? Because I can understand a good chunk of what these hyperites are saying. (Oh, and the fact that I am winging my way to one of the world’s most awesome places for nature and wildlife. It’s definitely another good reason for my optimistic mood).

The desire to speak and understand Spanish had been a big decider in my choice to travel in South America. Back in September 2011 I landed in Ecuador and gave Spanish a good go, but realistically it was a half-hearted effort that all too often resulted in a Spanglish language mish-mash coloured with a splash of German and Dutch and Hebrew.

I got by, don’t get me wrong, but during this second trip to South America I wanted to immerse myself further in the language and culture of the place and not the language and culture of my fellow travellers (as interesting as it might be).

After my visit to Brazil (with its added confusion of Brazilian Portuguese), I had decided to head back into Spanish-speaking South America, roughing it out for over twenty-eight hours on two buses through Paraguay into Bolivia.

It had been over three months since I’d spoken Spanish yet once I arrived into Asunción in Paraguay I was easily able to sort out tickets and taxis and day stays in a hostel whilst the two English girls in tow stood tongue-tied.

I could suddenly speak Spanish! It came flooding back to me with renewed energy and confidence. Could I really have improved? People understood me! Oh happy day!

Because being able to speak the language, I’ve found, enables one to connect better with locals, to feel closer to a country, to understand its nuances a little better.

For example during the day-long bus journey into Bolivia, I chatted away with the guy who had taken my window seat. I found out he was Colombian with four kids aged between four and twenty-six. Through body language and Spanish we talked on and off for hours about religion and family and everything in between.

In Pucara I found myself eating lunch with a family from Santa Cruz discussing Bolivian and European politics and economies. I understood pretty much everything. Sure, their language was probably dumbed down in order to give me a chance, and of course I couldn’t babble away in too much detail and depth, but it was a conversation nonetheless. In Spanish!

When I returned to Ecuador in April 2012, I taxied to a hostel in Guyaquil. ‘Your Spanish is good’, noted the driver. We chatted away. And once at the hostel I went through the whole check-in question and answer process in easy Spanish. ‘Your Spanish is good’, they complimented. I glowed. It was a day for ego-boosts.

But, for the amount of time I’ve spent in South America I really should be a lot better. I didn’t do daily homework like the good girl I wanted to be. I hung out with other travellers and spoke English far more than I ever intended.

And I got over my shyness and embarked on conversations a lot too late.

But shoulda-woulda-coulda. I partially achieved my South America goal to have a conversation in Spanish. So long as it’s not too in-depth, tick. I can get by.

Not that I’ll stop now, oh no.

So here I am, on my way to Galapagos with only a week or so to go before I leave South America once again, and I’m starting to think of ways to keep my language dreams alive. Anyone want to be my Spanish speaking buddy when I’m back in Australia? Weekly food and chatter at mine, no English allowed. Bon appetit. Oh no. I mean buen provercho. Si.

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Filed under culture, ecuador, language, natural wonders, south america, travel, wildlife

10 things I loved and hated about New Zealand

1) Open stretches of countryside, green covered mountains and palms and plants aplenty, New Zealand is undoubtedly a place of magnificent nature. Wild, unpredictable weather adds to the drama of the place and the lack of motorways enhances the romance of this wilderness. Mokau Road (which later becomes The State Highway) leading from New Plymouth towards Hamilton is such an example, a main route but a single lane that winds up Mount Messenger through a lush bush, fern and palm landscape. When I arrived into the country, a friend told me that New Zealand tends to get all weathers and all the seasons in one day, and boy was he right! I experienced beautiful sunshine, torrential downpours, serene evenings and battering winds. I also felt the force of the strong sun rays and the lack of ozone protection.

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New Plymouth getting a stormy, summer battering

2) A short and sweet entry, but as a chocoholic, I’m now so done with Cadbury’s having tasted the bliss of Whittaker’s chocolate. The Macadamia Block was particularly amazing. Less sweet and containing 33% cocoa compared to Cadbury’s Dairy Milk’s 23%, I was quickly addicted. Already I miss it.

3) Arriving into Auckland, one can’t help but notice the racial diversity of the city, particularly a mass Asian population (the Chinese represent the highest amount of immigrants after the Brits) with over 350,000 making up 12% of New Zealand’s overall population. A lot of foreign students are also choosing to study here rather than in the UK because, as one Saudi guy who I met said, New Zealand came with higher recommendations, and ‘it’s just a better place to be‘. Come on! – the UK is okay!

4) I loved the musicality of the Maori language with its repetition and rhythm. Take some of the place names, for instance, such as Paritutu and Papatoetoe. With the language having somewhat of a resurgence and the fact that so many signs and names are in Maori, it gives a sense that there is pride in the culture alongside a real acceptance and integration between Maori and the pakeha (non-Maori New Zealander) populations.

5) Hitchhiking in New Zealand is easy with friendly people always willing to stop and give you a lift. When you meet so many good people, it’s easy to forget the reality of the bad people out there and the potential danger to hitchhikers.

6) I couldn’t get over the quiet emptiness of many places thanks to the low population of four million, two million of who live in Auckland itself. People are friendly and will stop for a chat and the roads don’t feel too crowded at all. This quiet, relaxed pace comes with its downsides, like the Yot Club in Raglan shutting at 1:00am just when my dancing feet had woken up, but overall it’s a laidback country with an attitude to match, and a real want to welcome you in. In fact, along the road from Taranaki back up towards Hamilton, two consecutive signs read: WHY? followed shortly by We’d love you to stay! Not surprisingly, they are trying to encourage folk to make New Zealand their home, especially now that the latest statistics show more people emigrating than immigrating.

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Another jar, please

7) I had always been under the impression that the Aussies were the big drinkers but as one guy brashly put it, ‘us Kiwis would drink them under the table’. This is supported by statistics that show 25% of the adult population are binge drinkers and where ‘harmful alcohol use’ is said to cost New Zealand somewhere in the region of $4.9 billion per year. The drinking culture in New Zealand, as in many places, ranges from tanked-up nights out in Auckland through to groups of lads refusing to hit the town until the crate is empty (‘it’s an NZ rule’, some told me) or sipping tasty home brew in a fairly mellow setting. Although young people are said to drink far more than recommended, the majority insist that they don’t go out with the intention to get drunk. Yeah right. In fact it seems like a fair few Kiwis are actually in denial about just how much they drink, so much so that FebFast has come into existence: get sponsored to go the whole of February without a drop of alcohol.

8) The romance-less nature of guys on the pull quickly became apparent. I had been told that Kiwi guys aren’t a good catch (by a Kiwi girl, before you say anything), that their style was overtly direct and that they played a game of averages. Others argue that alcohol is absolutely necessary to fuel the fire, so to speak. When I met Tim in a bar in Auckland he quickly said ‘I’m here to pick up a girl’, whilst another guy I barely knew from the hostel blurted out: ‘I’d love to see you in a really short skirt’. Eeeeuww! Well it’s never going to happen. Goodbye! But maybe this honest approach makes for less misunderstandings?! And it’s also worth remembering that on the whole, Kiwi guys are a good-looking, straightforward and athletic bunch. With a supposed drought of single Kiwi guys, if you’ve got a good ‘un, hang on to him!

9) People on P scare me. Since being in New Zealand I’ve been warned on many occasions to stay clear. And as one old boy told me whilst puffing on a joint: ‘I used to live in London back in the ‘60s, tried everything going, but I won’t touch P. It’s bad news.’ Clearly it brings out the worst in people and does some bad, bad stuff to the body.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthpicturegalleries/6454944/Faces-of-Meth-the-long-term-effects-of-crystal-meth-or-methamphetamine.html

P (standing for ‘pure’) is methamphetamine, often cooked up in ‘clan labs’ – people’s own kitchens. It is shown to be highly addictive and massively destructive to families and communities. Many Kiwis I met talked about problems with P, and statistically, it’s clear that New Zealand is doing some serious battle with the drug.

10) I was on the lookout for a hooded black top and decided to try on one of the Icebreaker merino tops. It was amazing. The sleeves were perfect for my long, gawky arms, the material lowered beautifully at the back and the overall fit was snug. On a travelling budget, I couldn’t justify the price but wouldn’t it be sweet if the guys from Icebreaker decided to send me a free sample so that I could advertise it in action as I travelled?! Ah! A girl can but dream.

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Filed under culture, health, language, new zealand, random, travel