Monday, 26 December 2011

The importance of learning languages: where the UK is going wrong!

I am currently reading an article for a class on English-Spanish translation for Tourism and Leisure and it inspired me to vent some of my anger on the topic of the importance of language learning. Here is the link to the article (written in Spanish) for those of you who are interested: http://www.tesisenred.net/bitstream/handle/10803/10435/cap3.pdf?sequence=6 


The article talks about how crucial it is nowadays to learn foreign languages for business, especially in the tourism sector, whether the reason for travelling be a holiday or to conduct business. They say that English is the most widespread language used for communication within the business sector and that this is now reflected more and more in the Spanish education system. To me this seems to be true not just of Spain, but of many countries all over the world. 


Why is it then that the British government feel that we Brits should not learn foreign languages? They might not say it in so many words, but the huge budget cuts in languages in universities up and down the country speak volumes. At Strathclyde University they have reduced the number of languages students can take with the IBML degree (International Business and Modern Languages) from 2 to 1. At Glasgow University there are proposed cuts of Polish, Czech, Russian, German, Italian, Portuguese and Catalan due to budget cuts and a lack of interest in the languages. I personally cannot comprehend these moves. Budget cuts may be inevitable but if the government were to give more importance to language learning and encourage students to learn languages like Polish, then the courses would be more popular. This article from the Independent speaks about such cuts and points out that more than 50,000 Polish people came to the UK in 2010, yet only 500 students gained qualifications in Russian and Eastern European Studies (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/glasgow-university-could-scrap-language-courses-because-of-budget-cuts-2270634.html). 


You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that learning foreign languages and gaining some cultural awareness will improve our employability and competitiveness in the workplace. The UK expect its migrant workers to have a certain level of English coming into the country, but we Brits can offer very little in return to other countries, which is quite frankly sad and embarrassing. And we claim to be a multicultural society?


Studying in a Spanish university has given me the opportunity to view so-called 'Great' Britain from the perspective of a foreigner. They are all extremely surprised that I can get by speaking in Spanish, yet we are not in the least bit surprised when a foreigner can speak to us in fluent English! In my opinion, the government should try to encourage more of us to learn foreign languages and from a younger age as well. Maybe that way students could graduate from High School with the ability to say more than "j'ai un chien" after at least 4 years of studying French. That's not going to get you very far now, is it?


In conclusion, learn languages people! I guess this article is slightly pointless as most of you who are reading this will be currently studying one or more foreign languages. But if you are not, maybe you should? Food for thought =) 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Less than a month til Christmas!

I can't believe I've been in Spain for more than 4 months now! I've gotten so used to life here and it feels very normal now. I don't seem to miss home as much as other people do, but I do have my days and I can't wait to get home now for Christmas to spend time with my family and friends in Scotland. I'm really looking forward to the food, drink and Scottish music at new years! It has been very refreshing to come to Murcia and experience a new way of life and I certainly don't have many complaints, but being away from your home does make you realise the advantages of you own country.

So what have I been up to? I went to visit Alhama again where I hoped I would understand the people a bit better. Unfortunately I can only see a slight improvement on that front but I've been told not to worry if I can't understand people outside of the city. Maybe after 2 semesters here it will get a lot better. I also had my first trip to the cinema here! I saw 'Un Golpe de Altura' (Tower Heist) starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy - dubbed in Spanish of course. It was quite strange to see Eddie Murphy's facial expressions and expecting a strong and familiar American accent to come out, but hearing a standardised Spanish accent instead. Nonetheless it was still very funny and I would recommend it!

I also took another trip to Cartagena where I saw more of the city itself and visited the beautiful port they have. Needless to say the weather wasn't quite as good as it was in August. Took some more pictures of cool parts of the city and had ruedas con chocolate in the evening, which are like 'churros', basically a donut but in more of a cylinder shape. (Photos to the side and below)


Mazarron was another stop on my list of places to visit in Murcia. It is usually buzzing with people during the summer but when I went, it was deserted apart from the occasional group of English people taking a walk along the beach. This was actually quite an advantage as I got to take some lovely pictures without people getting in the way.

I have now went to several 'intercambios' in Murcia where people meet up to share their languages. Usually these take place in local bars where the flow of alcohol keeps your confidence level up. Mind you, some people overdo it and end up lacking the ability to speak even their native language! I would really recommend these to language students or anyone interested in improving their spoken skills. Take a pen and paper along with you to write down vocabulary you learn and to write things down for other people. Exchange numbers, email addresses and arrange to meet up on a regular basis if you are serious about making an improvement in your language abilities. I have met some extremely interesting and talented people from these events and I recommend taking advantage of these events in your own country as well as whilst abroad.

This post wouldn't be complete without a final and very British note about the weather. Recently it has been getting a lot colder. The temperature varies between about 13 and 21 degrees, however a few days ago it was 26 degrees and it felt like the height of summer again! If this is the late Autumn weather in Spain then I'm not surprised that so many Brits move here permanantly. I'm sure it'll be a shock when I land in Glasgow on the 19th of December when it's minus goodness knows how many degrees.

Having a great time here. I hope people are enjoying reading this and if anyone needs any advice or wants to share experiences, send me a message!

¡Hasta luego!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

¡Háblame en castellano!

Many people outside of Spain do not know that more than one official language exists within the peninsula. In fact, there are 4 official languages in Spain:

1) Castellano (Castilian Spanish) – a language that has evolved greatly since its birth from Latin in around the 9th century. It has many influences from Arabic and increasingly English. Spoken by roughly 41 million speakers in Spain. 


2) Catalán – a language spoken by almost 3 million people as their day-to-day language in Catalonia but understood by almost 6 million. The language (and its variations) is spoken in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and small areas of France and Italy. The Catalan lexicon is closer to its Latin routes than that of Castellano.  For example, in Latin the word for ‘key’ – ‘clavis’ – becomes ‘clau’ in Catalán but ‘llave’ in Castellano. One interesting pattern (at least for me) is the letter ‘F’ in Latin and Catalán becoming the letter ‘H’ in Castellano at the start of a word. For example: 

facere (latin)
--> fer (catalán) --> hacer (castellano); [English = to do]
filium
(latin)
--> fill (catalán) --> hijo (castellano); [English = son]
formica
(latin)
--> formiga (catalán) --> hormiga (castellano) [English = ant]

Usually French, Portuguese and Italian follow many of the same routes as latin whereas Spanish has evolved somewhat more. 

3) Gallego – from the region of Galicia in the Northern Spain, its roots also stem from Latin and it shares many similarities to Portuguese, as Galicia was once part of Portugal. It is spoken by between 3 and 4 million native speakers.

4) Euskeraotherwise known as ‘Basque’. Spoken in the Basque Country in the North of Spain (and also parts of Southern France) by roughly 665,800 people (614,000 in Spain and 51,800 in France). The origins of the language are hard to trace as it has little comparative similarity to any other language.

5) Valencianospoken in the Valencian Community. Officially considered a dialect of Catalan although some people in both regions would like to think they are different languages. In the region of Valencia there are around 1,300,000 people who speak it as their mother tongue and 3,500,000 who understand it. Sadly it is gradually disappearing from the cities of Alicante and Valencia where the majority of the population speak primarily Castellano. 

(As mentioned before, other variants of the Catalan language do exist - e.g. Majorcan – but for the purposes of this article I have only explained those dialects spoken in Catalonia and Valencia.)
  
After having spent 3 months in Spain, I feel like I want to share my own opinion on certain issues. Any criticisms and comments are welcomed! I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know some very special people in the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia and they have opened my eyes to the ins and outs of the issues that are raised about the Catalan language and other minority languages in Spain. It seems to me that many Spaniards have a problem with being spoken to in Catalán in Catalonia, Valencià in the Community of Valencia, Gallego in Galicia or Euskera in the Basque Country. Here is a link to a very interesting video where Cristina Almeida (a Spanish politician and lawyer from the east of Spain) speaks about her views: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=MItMYq1-rus

Sorry to the English speakers who cannot understand Spanish. Basically, she speaks about her intolerance for the typical attitude of Castellano speakers who say “speak to me in Castellano” when they go to a region that has a different language as its mother tongue. I share the opinion that if you go to any part of the world, not just within Spain, then you should be prepared to try and speak the language of that country, region or town etc. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t travel! If it is a matter of conducting business, maybe you can get by on English or, in the case of Spain, Castellano. But surely it's a little closed-minded and insensitive (to put it lightly) of people to go to a place and expect to get by in their mother tongue, or to expect to be spoken to in their mother tongue when it is not that of the people they are interacting with?

If the tables were to be turned, and, say, a person from Galicia used to expressing themselves in Gallego on a daily basis were to travel to Madrid to study, would you expect that person to say “speak to me in Gallego” just because it is their native language or their language of preference? I don’t think so.  Even in the 3 months that I have been in Spain, I have managed to pick up a few words and phrases in the variations of Catalan that exist, and I have even managed to follow conversations, replying to questions I am asked in Spanish. So I see no problem with
native Spaniards being spoken to in Valencià if they decide to travel to a region where it is spoken. It is fair enough if the native to the area decides they are comfortable enough to speak in Castellano. If you cannot reply in the language you are being spoken to in, use your own, but people should not insist on being spoken to in Castellano in the way that they often do.


I fully intend on learning some Catalan while I am here, in spite of the people who think I am crazy. Many think that it is pointless for a foreigner to learn Catalan if they can already speak Spanish. Well, to those people I’ll say this: if I want to learn Catalan, Valencian, Punjabi or Ancient Greek, ¿a tí qué más te da? What does it matter to you? I am choosing to learn it for the same reason that I have learnt Spanish and French; I like languages! I enjoy being able to understand and communicate in other languages. It allows you to discover other cultures and meet new people, so surely there can’t be any harm in that?
What's your opinion?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

1st few weeks in Murcia

The first few weeks in Murcia have been amazing. I’ve been trying to keep a diary as often as possible so that I can look back on what I did and tell other people about my experiences. Saying goodbye to my friends and family was a strange experience and I was quite sad to be leaving them, but I knew that I was going to love Spain and that I’d be back at Christmas anyway. My mum and dad hired us a car at Alicante airport and we drove from there to our apartment at Los Riquelme Golf Resort, 20 minutes drive from Murcia city centre. Getting there wasn’t easy as it was in the middle of nowhere and we actually ended up in the city centre of Murcia first because we took the wrong road from the word go. The night I arrived I used my UK phone to call some people to organise flat viewings for the next day. I was very nervous to speak for the first time over the phone in Spanish but I’m gradually getting the hang of it. When I tried to buy a mobile that day I was told I needed my passport, so we decided to go the next morning before meeting my friend Alberto who lives near the city centre. He came with us to view three flats, helping me with any translating and guiding us around the city. I was very thankful for the help, as I know that not everyone would have had that kind of help when they first arrive.

To cut a long story short, I decided on the second flat I saw that day, which was great news as it meant we didn’t have to spend any more days searching for flats and we could relax a little bit. The next few days were fairly relaxed. We had a lovely meal in a restaurant at a place called Los Alcazares on the coast of Murcia, giving me the opportunity to practice more Spanish with the waitresses! We also met up with some friends for breakfast (shout out to Juan Antonio and Jose Luis!) and then went with them at night to Cartagena in the south of the region to visit the typical touristic things and then had tapas and ice cream for dinner. The city was beautiful I would highly recommend that you visit it if ever you’re in Murcia. It was also a really good opportunity for me to practice my interpretation skills I received a couple of calls from my friends in Gerona (Adriana), Madrid (Diana) and Valencia (Roger), which I really appreciated as it reassured me that I had some nice people that were just a phone call away if I needed help or just a chat.

Some advice: if you go to another country and buy a foreign phone, make sure that they don’t rip you off with the tariff! I found out that I was paying around €1,38 for calls until my friend Alberto phoned them and managed to get them to change it. Setting up a bank account was also a problem. I went to Santander to set it up and was told that having a passport was no longer enough to set up an account. I was told I should bring them my matriculation documents from Murcia University to prove my reason for being in the country. That proved to be a problem for me a I wasn’t able to matriculate for another few weeks. I advise that you have a Cash Passport (Thomas Cook) that allows you to load money before you go away and allows another person at home to have a copy as well. That person can also load money on to the card, which is good for students who want their parents to send them money J.

For the next four days I stayed in Alberto’s town (Alhama de Murcia), which is a 30-minute train journey from Murcia city centre. The reason for which being that there was not yet any electricity in the flat and if I had stayed in the city I would have been all alone. So I spent 4 nights in a €25 per night hotel and met up with Alberto and his friends every day. I learnt so much Spanish over those few days as I was speaking Spanish pretty much all of the time with his friends and family and their accents were quite difficult to understand. After those 4 days I went back to the flat to find I didn’t have any hot water yet! I had a horrible night’s sleep, as there was no air conditioning either. The next day I walked to the supermarket (36 degrees by the way!) and bought myself a fan. That night I slept better.

I made a few trips to Alberto’s house to stay with him over the first few weeks. I was very glad of having some good company and they really took care of me, stuffing me full of food J. I was even able to share some Scottish ceilidh and traditional music with Alberto and his mum, showing them videos of me playing ceilidh music, and letting them hear Eddi Reader’s version of Auld Lang Syne (which made me feel extremely patriotic!). In exchange, his mum let me hear some typical Spanish music that she likes.


The final highlight is going to see Pablo Alborán (Spanish singer from Malaga) in concert in a park in the city centre. He was amazing and I even knew some of the words to his songs. I got a lot of strange looks from the natives who obviously didn’t expect to see a ‘guiri’ (foreign person) at a Spanish language concert, singing the words as well! I must have been the only foreigner in the place.

In conclusion I’ve been having a great time and I’ve learnt so much already. I’ll post again soon with an Interview in Catalunya! 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

7 days to go!

Well I thought it was about time to post another update since I only have one week left until I leave Scotland for Murcia. I'm so excited to start living in Spain but I'm also very scared and quite saddened but the thought of leaving my family and friends. I am comforted by the fact that I'll have a few people coming to visit me throughout the year and everyone is only a Skype call away. I have my list ready for everything I need in my suitcase, got my new specs and sunglasses and I have phone numbers to call when I arrive in Murcia. All that's left to do is to pack! 


In the last few weeks I've been very busy. I went with the accordion band that I play in to Florida for 2 weeks - the first week was filled with lots of food, swimming pools, mini-golf and theme parks; the second was dedicated to playing concerts and having practices for said concerts. I have to say that one of the best moments was playing on the band stand at Downtown Disney! (see picture below)


I also wanted to attach some clips of us playing in Florida. So here they are:
video
Video 1 - Rockin' All Over The World

Video 2 - Kintail (slow air)

Enjoy!

Stu 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Exams are finished...¡por fin!

Finally our 3rd year exams are finished! Most of my exams went pretty well although the Marketing was a tough 2 hours. Now it's time for me to start learning the every day Spanish words that university has failed to see fit to teach us =D Sure I could maybe talk about drugs, education and new communication methods, but I'm not quite so confident with vocabulary like fregadero, cuchillo, lavavajillas and colchón! They obviously just expect us to learn that stuff on our own, which is fair enough I suppose. 

I've also set my departure date now for the 16th of August! I'm going to San Javier on the coast of Murcia with my parents for a week. Now that the date is official I'm starting to have moments of panic due to the realisation that I'm moving away for a year! I'm really going to miss my family and friends but I know I'm going to have such a great time and people can visit me while I'm there. The amount of forms and paperwork that we have to fill in right now is very frustrating. There are various SAAS forms, passport applications, EHIC cards, insurance forms, university applications and Erasmus forms, all with different deadlines and criteria, which is getting slightly confusing. Some of the forms can only be completed upon arrival and after enrolling in classes, including forms that need to be sent to Glasgow University if I want to receive my grant from the Stevenson Scholarship. Ahh!!! 

Anyway, I have decided to take a day off of piano teaching on Saturday so that I can (for once) go out on a Friday night with my friends! I'm going to a Mexican themed party at a club called "Stereo" in Glasgow, which I'm really looking forward to. Spanish language music, piñatas, moustaches and ice-cream...what more could you ask for? I'll post again after that, hopefully with some photos. 

Cuidaos

Friday, 6 May 2011

Pre-Erasmus Blues

I thought I would take a break from all the studying for the looming exams to talk a bit about this strange time when you've finished classes at Uni, but still have exams and a summer holiday before you get to leave for your year abroad. Unless you are one of those lucky people that has enough money to spend the whole summer in the place you're going to be for a year, I think this time can be very frustrating. 

So you've heard about the 'Post-Erasmus Blues' right? This phenomenon that everyone seems to experience after coming back home from the best year of their life. Well, I've been speaking to some friends who are also doing Erasmus 2011-2012, and the general consensus seems to be... meh! Nobody can be bothered with studying for their exams as they just want it to be summer so they can start arranging things for going abroad. The fact that we have horrible exams just now, coupled with the not-so-summery weather and the apprehension about the coming year, seems to be making us all feel like there's a big cloud hanging over us. That's one of the reasons why I picked such a beautiful scene for the picture to this article. There's this dismal storm cloud filled with worries drifting over us, but we know that once it lifts, the sun will come out and everything will be fine. I feel like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we're all in such a rush to get there, that we're not really considering the possibility that we'll fail our university exams and have no Erasmus grant to support us! 

Nobody warned us about this in the meetings! I knew I would have worries about going away but I feel like I need to get things sorted NOW! A flat in Spain, money, a whole new wardrobe, a camera etc. In this case it's actually a shame that the Spanish are so relaxed about things like flat-hunting, because it's such a big step for us. Being British, I think that I want to have things very organised and secure in advance so that I can enjoy my year. But the Spanish 'mañana' attitude seems to tell them that you'll find a flat in 2 days, BING BANG BOOM you're sorted. I wish I were so relaxed about it!

 I'm also extremely glad that we live in a time of Skype where we can easily keep in face-to-face contact with friends and family both at home and in various European countries. That fact is giving me a bit of reassurance as I know that if and when I miss people, they are just a click away. I'll no doubt post another article once my exams are done. Cannot wait =D xox

Monday, 2 May 2011

May 2nd 2011 - Introduction

Ok so this is my very first blog post ever!! I have created this blog in light of my recent award from the Stevenson Exchange Scholarship at Glasgow University. I am going to document my whole Erasmus experience from my feelings before going away, until my eventual and no doubt unwilling return to Scotland. This blog will hopefully include pictures, a list of my monthly expenditure, a diary (both written and the occasional video), video interviews with local people from several regions in Spain and any other cultural and linguistic information that I happen to find interesting. This should allow me to have a better understanding of Spain when I come back, to improve my spanish linguistic skills and to give future Erasmus students going to Spain a better idea of what the daily life of an Erasmus student is like.

So, a bit about me. My name is Stuart Taylor, I'm 20 years old (soon to be 21!) and I'm currently studying International Business and Modern Languages (IBML) at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK. The principal subjects I study are Marketing, International Business, Spanish and French. I am a piano teacher at the Brian Laurie Paisley Academy of Music where I also play in the accordion orchestras and showbands that take part in local events, UK championships and regular tours to Germany. In July we will be travelling to DisneyLand Florida to play our own individual concerts and also to be part of a "super showband" comprised of accordion orchestras from all over the world.

As you can see, my two main passions in life are music and languages so I hope to learn a lot about music in Spain whilst I'm away. So for anyone interested in Spanish music, keep your eyes peeled for updates!

That was my first blog post! I hope you follow me during my time in Spain and if you're reading any of this and have any questions, go ahead and send me a message here or email me:

Email: stu_t27@hotmail.com
Feel free to add me on Facebook.

Hasta luego!