Ok, those of you who reside in, or have ever visited the Andalucían province of our beloved España will surely know where this is going, but for those of you who don’t/haven’t, let me just clear one thing up: we don’t speak ‘Spanish’ here. At least not the Spanish you’ll have heard on TV or learnt at school. Oh no. Grab the nearest umbrella or have a Kleenex at the ready because here, we speak what is known as ‘Andaluttthhh!’ (which is actually spelt ‘Andaluz’ but now you get the point).
If you’re planning a trip to Spain, you may have been all clever and had the foresight to enroll in a 10-hour language crash course. Well done you. It’ll surely come in handy in Madrid. But let’s assume that, like most tourist itineraries often tend to be, a sizable chunk of your trip will be spent reconnoitering the rural plains of Andalusia, with all-but obligatory stop-offs in Seville, Granada and Cadiz. Here, that crash course will feel about as worthwhile as a pedal-powered wheelchair would to Steven Hawking.
“But what about this fantastic pocket-sized book on useful Spanish words and phrases? Surely that’ll help?” I hear you cry.
Well, go to the window, now open it, and take that book and hurl it as far as you can, because as soon as you say something, you’ll most likely encounter a reply unintelligible to most other Spaniards, let alone you.
Perhaps I’m overstating it a bit. If it’s not too late, maybe don’t throw your useful book out the window- that’d just be silly. Lots of Andalucians speak the language beautifully, and are often very accommodating and willing to adjust their natural speech patterns when it comes to dealing with helpless tourists. But be warned- there still exist many Spaniards who are not so obliging. Let me paint you a picture or two:
I had just arrived in Granada, and in realization of the fact that my Spanish was clearly not up to scratch to be living with Spanish people, I wasted no time in finding somebody to start an intercambio with (basically a short, informal language exchange between two people). I sent out an invitation online, and received several very enthusiastic responses the same day. I chose Juan, as he and I seemed to share some common interests. So, the day of our first meeting arrived and we met at a local café. We sat down, ordered our drinks and began:
Me (in my best possible Spanish): Hola! Mucho gusto. ¿Como estás?
Juan: Bien gracia’. Entonce’ dime- ¿cuanto tiempo ma’ o meno’ lleva’ aqui en E’paña?
Now, all you Spanish speakers will no doubt be able to picture exactly how I must have looked upon hearing this. For everybody else, imagine how confused a foreigner with minimal English would be if he sat down for a chat with Kenny Dalglish. All those apostrophes are ordinarily substituted with s’s, and had there been a single one in Juan’s opening line then I might have just grasped what he was saying to me. The rough translation is ‘Fine thanks. So tell me- how long have you lived in Spain for?’ I got the first bit at least.
I didn’t meet up with Juan again. It was a lost cause- his accent was just too strong. This came as a particularly dispiriting blow seeing as how I’d just completed a year in Cadiz, where the locals are even harder to understand- I’ll never forget my lovely chats with the old woman who I would sometimes bump into on the communal terrace when I went up to hang the washing out. I’d write a dialogue, but there’s nothing to write. I simply couldn’t understand a word. I just smiled and nodded in agreement as she unremittingly gabbled on in that curiously monotone, nasal and consonant-less voice of hers. I occasionally chipped in with a ‘si’ or a ‘claro’ but politely asking her to repeat or speak more slowly was futile.
Even just understanding a simple ‘goodbye’ took some getting used to. I knew already that ‘hasta luego’ meant ‘see you later’ and felt that I could pronounce it rather well. That means nothing though, when what you’re hearing sounds nothing like what you’re saying; ‘a’ta luego’ is what the locals say where I lived in El Puerto de Santa Maria. But venture further south into the heart of Cadiz and you’ll soon find that that is relatively clear in comparison to what comes out of the mouths of the city’s ‘true’ Gaditanos; ‘ta wego’, or ‘ta we’o’ and even just ‘we’o’, which is essentially just a grunt, are perfectly acceptable ways of saying goodbye here.
Thankfully, I am now no longer baffled by this so-called ‘bad’ or ‘lazy’ Spanish. In the space of two years I have come from absolutely loathing the fact that I had to put up with it, to understanding it, respecting it and even using it myself (much to the delight of my Andalucían housemates).
As a language teacher, I whole-heartedly believe that there is no such thing as ‘badly spoken Spanish’, rather it is, just like any other language, undergoing the natural process of change, and such instances of elusive or completely omitted ‘s’s and ‘d’s etc, are merely examples of this fascinating process, even if they do leave the intended recipients squinting in utter bewilderment.
Are you an expat in, or have you been to Andalusia or another part of Spain with an incredibly thick accent? Have you ever had any similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them.
*Proud Andalucíans defending their accent!*