(otherwise known as Brave Pills!)
Over the years, whenever there’s something I find particularly challenging or scary, Hilary and I joke about the need for a ‘brave pill’. This is a really nice concept and helps to overcome the natural fear of taking on big challenges, meeting new people, making that difficult phone call, or simply speaking a new language.
And so, having moved to Spain last year, I’ve taken lots of brave pills, but I also recognise a number of times when a brave pill wasn’t available, and I chickened out of doing or saying something. Unfortunately, I don’t have a recipe for making brave pills – I could make a fortune if I did! But it’s a nice and helpful metaphor that connects well with me, especially now I’m living in Spain and everything is still so new.
Brave pills used to be related to work situations, for example a big external presentation or an important meeting. But I’ve realised that in Spain the brave pills are really mostly about the language, and in particular about speaking it. I’ve done lots of Spanish over the years, but not always in a very structured way.
Duolingo was my ‘go-to’ app, and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn Spanish, or indeed any other language. It’s free, it’s fun and slightly obsessive – it became all important to maintain my streak, and when (due to wifi problems) I did lose my 346-day streak, I was devastated. So yes, quite a compulsive language learning tool! I’ve just finished all Duolingo lessons, and I have a private face to face Spanish lesson once a week. I’d hoped that by now, the brave pills would no longer be needed, but not true …
How long does it take to become fluent in Spanish?
For me it’s really important to become fluent in Spanish – and that means being able to understand and speak to my neighbours about more than simply the weather or the olive harvest (though those topics are a good start!). I want to understand my Pilates teacher when she tells a joke and the whole class laughs out loud – apart from me, because I don’t get it.
I’d like to be able to talk to people without worrying that they have no understanding of what I’m saying – and I get that dreaded ‘blank look’ which means that whatever I just said has made no sense at all (though this can also happen in English or Dutch 😊). And eventually I want to be able to do some work in Spanish, though currently that feels light years away.
Looking back, there has actually been a lot of progress and I am way more confident in my Spanish than I used to be, and so maybe I’m simply a bit too impatient. I guess it will take one or two years. And the best advice I can give to anyone learning a new language is to immerse yourself in it. Watch TV, listen to the radio, attend a class, use an app and learn something each day, taking every opportunity to practice.
One thing I’ve started to do is to go for a walk with a Spanish friend who’s keen to improve her English – on half the walk we speak Spanish for my benefit, and the other half is in English so that she can learn. And of course, don’t forget to take those brave pills …
Ever since we moved here in September last year, I’ve been relying on Hilary to deal with deliveries, trades people, Spanish administration. Not fair on him perhaps, but he does speak Spanish really well – way better than me. We found that the mode of communication in Spain is usually the telephone, and there seems to be a Spanish fast-talking gene resulting in people speaking super-fast, which makes using the phone particularly challenging.
A few days ago, I had a big problem with my Spanish telephone. So I took a brave pill, and phoned the mobile phone company. My first question, in Spanish, was: “do you speak English?”. My heart sank when she said no. But the call went brilliantly, she understood the issue, and she resolved it for me. What a relief, and what a great sense of achievement. Definitely a case of brave pills working!