(Language learning in the time of corona)
Well, this is a strange one. We had just returned from two glorious weeks away celebrating my ancient husband’s milestone birthday…the BIG 30! He needed a bit of convincing that he really wasn’t THAT old, and he didn’t have THAT many grey hairs. I reminded him that he should be grateful for his health at least. Oh, the irony!
As we boarded a near-empty plane back to Madrid on the eve of the national lockdown, we hoped that good health was one thing we did have on our side.
Mild fear was setting in. We had been travelling around Cuba, using every form of transport you could name (save this for a quarantine game). A beautiful and fascinating country, but not renowned for its hygiene standards and we soon got used to paying $1 for the pleasure of washing our hands in public! Then on to Miami where we arrived bang in the middle of Spring Break (WOO)! Hygiene standards here may have trumped Cuba, but so did the number of people, excitedly breathing over each other around the hotel pool while deciding where to brunch.
One night, in a South-Beach restaurant, a super enthusiastic waiter (read: American) began to drip feed us horror stories of hotels beginning to shut down, flights being cancelled, and restrictions on travel to Europe. We thought he was being dramatic, thriving on the growing media hype. Afterall, we had just spent a blissful Wi-Fi-free week in Cuba, shut off from information and free from worry. (But yes, of course we left a tip).
“Luck” had been on our side so far. We saw Miami Heat play the last game of the season and hopped on one of the last flights back to London to continue the big birthday celebrations with the family! Then we made it home to Madrid, as mentioned, just hours before the official lock-down began. It was a tense flight. R made the grave error of clearing his throat during take-off in an attempt to dislodge a stubborn piece of popcorn, and received a glare from a fellow passenger, who was both masked and gloved (a look that was soon to become the norm but at this point was terrifying)! As soon as we were high in the sky, a member of the cabin crew approached to check if R was sick. I quickly confiscated the popcorn and silenced him for the remainder of the flight. Too risky.
And here we are, 8 weeks into el confinamiento. We have enough food to make some much missed hearty dinners, but not so much that we could be accused of stockpiling. After all, we need an excuse to take an occasional outing to the supermarket, and there is only so much you can hoard in a rucksack and a bag for life! We learnt the do’s and don’ts along the way. On Day 2, still foggy from jet lag, we boldly ventured out together but soon discovered our mistake when an army guard shouted at us from across the street to move apart. And they say romance is dead…
Just a few months ago, we were travelling around Cuba without a care in the world, exercising a freedom that we took for granted – even holding hands! We had the invaluable opportunity to practise our Spanish and at times, felt elated with our notable progress and level of understanding. The mild surprise and encouragement from the Cuban people when we “tried” was a great incentive.
With weeks ahead confined to la casa, what better time could there be to improve even more? Now, I sign in for two Skype classes per week (looking semi-presentable from the waist up), then work my way through a free trial on Babbel for around one hour per day and listen to a range of language podcasts to help me drift off to sleep (I haven’t dreamt in Spanish yet but I am lead to believe this is a pivotal moment).
Last night we even watched ‘First Dates’ in Spanish! It’s amazing what you can learn from following the subtitles of people’s awkward first encounters! I currently have no one to practise my hilarious newfound phrases on, but my Spanish teacher could be in for a treat during our next online date… I mean class!