I don’t understand…

One thing which has become clearly apparent to me over the last week (yes, I have been in Spain for 7 days now!) is how different it is trying to speak Spanish in the real world versus learning Spanish in class…

In class, the teacher spoke incredibly clearly and distinctly, repeating things where necessary, and making sure we had SOME idea what was going on before asking us to respond. (Gracias, Gabriel!)

Not so in the real world. Everyone seems to be speaking INCREDIBLY fast, and because I’m not fluent, I need lots of time to a) translate what they are saying, then b) formulate my response in English, and c) then say it in Spanish.

Let’s just say, the pace is leaving me for dead.

But not only is the pace too fast, I’ve also come to realise that I have a REALLY nasty habit of smiling and nodding and saying “si, si, yo entiendo” (yes, yes, I understand), even when I most certainly do not entiendo.


Today’s example. I went to the Town Hall in Valdebernardo to try and register as a Madrid inhabitant, which I need for my identity card (hello, bureaucracy). First, I approached the secretary’s counter. She said something that I couldn’t understand, but waved her hand towards the other side of the room, which I took to mean “You go over there.” So off I went.

Then I explained my purpose, in carefully rehearsed Spanish, to the man behind the counter. He responded with a barrage of words, gesticulating wildly, as I furiously nodded, and “si”-ed away. From what I could gather, he told me that he couldn’t register my document as I don’t live in Valdebernardo. Instead, I have to go to the office closest to my residence, but there is a one month wait for appointments. At least I THINK that’s what he said. I heard “No”, “not here”, “where you live”, “wait a month”, and inferred the rest.

I don’t know why (Social expectations? Shyness? Being totally overwhelmed? A mixture of all?) I never say “I don’t understand.” I just play along with it, and the less  I understand, the more crazy my gestures and “si”s become.

Image result for shy cat

I really need to summon the courage to say “Look, I didn’t get that. Could you repeat it?”, or else I may soon find myself nodding furiously and agreeing that yes, I am a complete idiot, and yes, I should take the first plane back to Australia and never set foot in Spain again…

Image result for repeat spanish

4 thoughts on “I don’t understand…

  1. I asked my mum once if she listened to English, then translated it into Chinese then formulate a response in Chinese then translate it into English.

    She said she did initially but then she was eventually fluent enough to think in English.

    I have noticed that people tend to count in their native language.


  2. Yes, I think that this takes time. Most of the people who I exchange languages with are thinking in Spanish, then speaking in English. Only one is able to think in English, and her speech is a lot faster and more fluent, because there’s no pause for translation. I am able to think in Spanish for the very, very easy things e.g. ordering at a cafe, introducing myself. But once it gets harder, I’m back to English.

    How long before your mum felt she could think in English?


    • I’ll ask her. She studied at a British-run high school so English was the dominant language and then her nursing diploma was also at a British-run hospital.


      • Thanks, that would be great! It sounds like she started learning earlier than I did (I was 30 when I started Spanish lessons), but it will be interesting to hear her view 🙂


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