How Much English Is Too Much English?

Well, at this point, I’d say just about any. My last two weekends have been some of the most memorable and crazy I’ve ever experienced. My program had an international excursion to London last weekend and a couple of friends and I packed our bags for a wild weekend in Barcelona a few days ago. However, both these weekends came at a price of not being able to speak any Spanish. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting any in London, but Barcelona? C’mon now.

“BIG OL’ BEN”

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THE TOWER BRIDGE, LONDON

London was a city that you could never forget if you tried. The British accent and all the little sayings alike provided for some mere entertainment just from listening to locals’ conversation. I was on the edge of my seat the entire week awaiting our arrival in London due to the fact that my Father was born there, stayed for a couple months, and unfortunately had to move. He’s never been able to go back and see his roots, thus propelling me to see and experience all I could–and I most certainly did. But, throughout my life I’ve never been far from the British way of living; my grandmother lived in London for 20 odd years and grew up in the heart of the city. So, maybe you can imagine how I felt standing close to where she lived when the Germans bombed the city during World War II.  My anxiety had come full circle by the end of Thursday night. We were supposed to catch a late flight on Thursday to Stansted Airport outside of London, but this was met with some problems. As our plane had arrived and we were waiting in line, a kind (yet soon to become, terribly, terribly annoying voice) came over the loud speaker to inform us that the plane had been struck by lightning and they would let us know the status of the flight in 15 minutes. 15 minutes? Oh that’s not too bad, right? Sure, yeah when 15 minutes is actually an hour and a half? Yeah, that sucks. Anyways, it had taken over an hour and a half for that beautiful voice to haunt our dreams and tell us that the flight had been cancelled. Being now about 11 PM, we all were very tired, but come to find out it would only be the beginning to a very long night. With doubts that we’d even be able to get a flight the next morning, we waited for over 3 and a half hours for the airport to send us back to Bilbao’s center where we’d eventually stay in a 5-star hotel (pretty cool). By 3 AM we arrived to the hotel and had to catch a bus back just a few hours later for our flight to London. With no sleep, it was time for the weekend I’d been waiting for.

BUCKINGHAM PALACE

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API, the program I’m studying with has been truly amazing, and on all of our excursions they give us the best of the best tour guides, things to do, and places to see. London was no different and after the day of travel we started the weekend with a bus guided tour of all the highlights of the city. Our tour guide was hilarious, filled with British jokes and sayings ranging from “Tiddlywinks” to “Easy peasy lemon squeezy”. Yes, they actually say this stuff! But immediately, I learned that London housed many more landmarks and history than I previously thought. This fact excited me, but at the same time showed me that just 3 days in the city wasn’t going to ever be able to satisfy my hunger for the place so ingrained in me. That night after the tour, we went to some good ol’ London pubs to drink pints and watch the England vs. Wales rugby game. Rugby there is like football in the US, and the pubs were filled with passionate fans and cheering pints with mates.

THE OLDEST MAN ON EARTH, AN AMAZING MUMMY FROM 5500 YEARS AGO

BRITISH MUSEUM, LONDON

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A MESOPOTAMIAN ETCHING FROM B.C.

BRITISH MUSEUM, LONDON

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The rest of the weekend consisted of seeing landmarks like Westminster Abby, “Big Ben” (literally not the correct name), Portabello Markets, The British Museum (awesome), and Buckingham Palace. Out of everywhere, Portabello Markets was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been; miles of outside vendors in a tightly packed street, where you could virtually find whatever you wanted and provided some memories to last a lifetime. In particular, a friend of mine Tanner and I kindly strolled into this shop with pictures and posters and had a quick conversation with a worker that finished with “Have a great night, thank you!”. As I walked out, I heard him give us a good “Damn yankees, all they ever do is come in and never buy anything”. HAHA, how cool is that? The problem with this is that I’m not a Yankee, I’m a Red Sawk, but that’s for another time and place. After walking miles, seeing all we could, and having a few pints we made our way back to the hotel to try and rest our legs for whatever the night were to bring us ahead.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Within 10 minutes I convinced myself that time was a wastin’ and signed up for a Pub Crawl which was supposed to start in like 18 minutes from receiving the “success, you registered” email.

TIME TO BOOK IT

Accompanied by the group, we made our way to the first bar and started having a great time which would continue long into the morning with discounted drinks, good music, and even better company. On Sunday, our flight was to leave in the middle of the afternoon so the morning was all the time we had left to spend. I went to the absolutely beautifully humongous Hyde Park in the city’s center and enjoyed the rare sun and warm weather. Ah, what a weekend and only wish these fingers had the power to convey everything I experienced.

BARCELONA

The crew packed up and we left for Barcelona on Friday morning. Now, all I’ve ever really heard about Barcelona is that it’s a beautiful, yet touristy city on the eastern coast of Spain coastlined by the Mediterranean Sea. And, yup these preconceived notions were just about right. Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona was absolutely sick. But, I’m happy that I never really considered spending my abroad experience there due to the fact that I heard more English than Spanish in my time there. Yeah, I’m not kidding. I’d go up to someone and ask a question in Spanish and they would respond in English because they could tell I was American. Or give a greeter at a restaurant an “Hola”, but they’d come back with “Hello”. NO. PLEASE. I don’t want to speak English. But Barcelona is awesome, with a ton to do, and see. Oh yeah, I even got a haircut at an American place. But, I must admit they had a small DJ and free drinks so…it was a good choice.

LA SAGRADA FAMILIA

BARCELONA, SPAIN

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VIEW FROM OUTSIDE

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We got to take a snooze on the beach, see some of Barcelona’s highlights, stroll through some parks, dance at a club, and just plain live and enjoy a new place. But this whole English thing really confuses me. In Barcelona, the locals speak a different dialect of Spanish called Catalan and some of the locals’ conversations I could hear I was surprised of the difference from up north in Bilbao. But, as I look back I’m astonished of the amount of English I was around. I mean, yeah I guess I was visiting touristy sections and places but wow, I never expected that. I guess it’s a good thing though when your barber speaks English, just in case.

PARK IN BARCELONA

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Once again, it’s phenomenal to be back in my home in Bilbao. But this return was a little different than the others I’ve had. My house mom, Maika had informed me last weekend that for the next month we’d have a visitor living in our apartment. So when I arrived, an exchange student from Germany was sitting at the table. So now, I have the opportunity to learn some German, but at the same time I’m sharing a bathroom with a girl for the first time. I guess that’s not a bad trade-off? We’ll have to see. As I’m typing away, I can hear Maika talking to Jackie in very, very basic Spanish. But I guess if I re-winded time to 6 weeks ago I was in the exact same boat. Now, I look back and think of how much Spanish I’ve learned and I surprise myself more and more as time goes on.

I’ve thought so much about what language is, how essential it is to life, and how I want to become as fluent as possible in Spanish. Just in these 6 weeks, I feel like I can honestly understand what other people are talking about, get a gist for what they are asking, all by picking out key words. The problem I’m having is being able to correctly express what I’m feeling. At times, I have to resort to the most basic way of conveying what I truly want to say. And this, here, is what I mean by how important language is. We communicate our love, or hatred for something by using a different combination of 26 letters. The difference between I love and I like, I’m aggravated and I’m mad; all these are words with similar meanings but drastic differences when it comes to conversation. Language is so immensely complex, and being away from English has made me realize that the ability to tell someone what you truly want is a luxury we take for granted daily. Thus, pushing me to try my best and learn Spanish in a way where I can do just that. It’ll take time, but I’m in the best place for it. As I’m wrapping this one up, the new roommate is speaking to someone back home in German, but I guess that’s better than English.