Learning a language when you move to a new country. | J. MOREY

One of my biggest regrets when moving here to this stunning island, over 17 years ago, was not learning the language before I landed. We had been visiting for many years before we moved lock, stock and paella pan to Mallorca, yet in all that time I only ever picked up a few words like – ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘can you direct me to the nearest post office!’ Oh, I also somehow managed to learn the words in parrot fashion, to a song called ‘Eres’ without understanding any of the lyrics.
Other Half, on the other hand, was already fluent in Castellano so I suppose I was just being lazy, and thought I would seriously apply myself once ensconced in situ! But when locals think your partner is Spanish, yet can’t quite work out which part of Spain they come from, I tended to sit back and let the language flow over and around me.

Also in my defense, French was my ‘go to’ language, and in the early days I developed an unfortunate habit of translating everything first into French as my prompt to Spanish. In the end though, I had to bury this idea as it was getting confusing, and I quickly realised there was only room in my head for one additional language, so the Spanish studies began in earnest.

Of course, it’s not absolutely necessary to speak Spanish when living here in Mallorca, although it’s much easier to break the ice with locals if you do. I know of expats who barely speak a word of Castellano, yet successfully make friends using nothing more than gratuitous hand gesticulations. One English woman we know living here, when talking to her Mallorcan neighbours, employs so much arm waving she is often in danger of bringing down a small aircraft.

We built a house when we first arrived on Mallorcan soil, and getting involved with a build is a great way to learn a new language. You also pick up an amazing vocabulary that you will probably never use again in your entire life; yet it’s always helpful to know how ‘a holding joist’, ‘a chimney cowl’ or a ‘door casing’ translates into Spanish. Mind you, it’s not always as simple as it seems. Some technical words sound faintly similar to others – well they did to me - and often resulted in an hilarious exchange. For example: in Mallorca, the British skirting board simply doesn’t exist. Instead, a narrow tile called a ’rodapié’ is used to give a neat finish where the bottom of the wall meets the tiled floor. There is also a very popular fish here in Mallorca called ‘rodaballo’ which translates as turbot! During my early vocabulary building days I often confused the two, and mistakenly informed people that the builders were installing a nice edging of turbot to complete the flooring!

And when buying chicken (pollo) from a local butcher, NEVER make the mistake of asking for a kilo of ‘polla’, as you are likely to receive something extraordinary from between the hind legs of a bull, which at a push I suppose you could use as a rolling pin!

Yet direct translations are often loaded with errors, and when learning a new language, you can’t just translate word for word – you have to learn the ‘way’ things are said on a local level. And it works the other way as well. For example, any foreigner trying to learn English would probably be very confused by the common and popular greeting ‘alright!’, which is used so frequently, yet doesn’t really make sense when translated directly.

With that in mind, there are some hilarious ‘faux pas’ examples which surface when translation literally gets lost in language, particularly on menus in restaurants and tourist eateries when dishes are literally translated word for word. A few favourite examples which always raise a smile are – Roast Rabbi, Pig Spit, Lamp Chobs, Soap of the Day, Fried Guts (tripe), and Local Fish served with a Seaman Sauce, although I’ve never been brave enough to even think about trying that one!

But part of the fun with learning any new language are the mistakes which you are invariably going to make along the way. It’s all part of the process. Yet try not to call your lawyer (abogado) an albondiga, although I am sure they will see the funny side! And if not, then find a different meatball (albondiga).