Result of (spoiler mostly failed) Spanish experiment

So I wrote here earlier how I was considering doing some insane amount of Spanish learning here in order to prepare for my trip to Gran Canaria over the holidays and then try to talk as much to natives as possible and see how it went.

I was already very burned out from using LingQ when I posted about it, so I didn´t have it in me to make an “insane” effort with Spanish before going. I went from 18K to just finish Advanced 1 and did some listening. I suspected I needed to translate and know common requests and conversation starters before going. Lots of people advised me to focus on listening.

Here is what happened: I was mostly just on holiday with my family. Little time where I was alone doing whatever I´d do alone, like practicing languages with strangers. I´d have loved to do that more, not just with Spanish, but with the numerous Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and French tourists there, but my daughters get very annoyed when I stop whatever we are doing to chat with strangers in languages they don´t understand. Mostly this holiday was about being with my family and getting away from the dark, Icelandic winter days, so I´m not going to beat myself up for it.

The point, if I was to learn languages at all, was to learn more Spanish though and there was another big thing in the way of that. The place we stayed at, Maspalomas, is a tourist place, mostly hotels and stores/restaurants. It´s not a “real Spanish town” at all. Most of the Spanish people I´d meet were clerks, waiters etc. who were working and didn´t necessarily have much time to listen to my broken and limited Spanish when there were other people waiting to be served. Sometimes when their English was very limited, there´d still be more of a window and I´d have some simple exchanges. I was also lucky enough to go on one bus tour where the guide would guide in both German and Spanish, allowing me to listen to and understand quite a lot of the Spanish part.

Here is what I learned from the trip:

  1. If you want to speak to working people in their native language, work out the phrase you want to start with a bit ahead, so you won´t immediately get stumped.
  2. Learn some key phrases you are sure to need “I would like…”, “I would like to go…”, “Where is …?” etc.
  3. If you start speaking in the target language and begin by excusing how bad it is, people will often take that as a sign of how it´s going to be better to talk to you in English (that that´s what you´d prefer even), so instead you´d be better of saying you want to practice or that you are learning the target language, but you may not be that good at it.

Now that covid is up again in Iceland and pretty much everywhere, I´m just going to do more to find people for online language exchange chats, teaching Icelandic and English and learning French, Dutch, Norwegian and Spanish, maybe even Faroese.


I wouldn’t categorize this as a failed experiment at all :). It sounds like you had a good time with your family, and got some good lessons from your trip.

I think you nailed the important bits. When visiting a tourist-y destination the native speakers you encounter are likely to be clerks, waiters, trying to sell things, etc. In this case your interactions are generally going to be transactional, and you (I at least) don’t want to inconvenience them just to stumble through a language experience.

In that case my advice would be exactly what you’ve said. Be prepared for what you are going to say. Try to anticipate the handful of things they may say back, be sure you understand them and be ready to respond to those as well. No you probably aren’t having deep conversations, but that doesn’t usually happen “at home” anyways.

Given your native language is Icelandic, I suspect you will find it pretty easy to find language partners in most of your TL’s. Good luck and hope you are staying safe with COVID!

Well, speaking with working people in their target language is ok if you target the right people.

As I worked in the hotel industry that’s not the right place most of the time, or restaurants. The fact is that they want to be sure you have the best experience so they switch in the language you know the most if they know it too. And as you said, they are usually busy and they are focused on working.

Even more, they are happy to use their own language skills because it’s part of their job and it’s something that make them happy. If they know you’re French and they know a bit of French is an opportunity for them to use it and to make you happier. So they are going to do it, and so on for every country or language.

But you can override this by choosing less popular touristic places or shops. Local or family hotels for example, like small B&B or farmhouses and local small restaurants. In those situation, you can find that those places are run by local people that have a limited English or foreign skills or have more time. Or maybe there is just one member that have more languages skills but most of the others don’t so you can definitely ask more questions in your target language and they’ll be happy to answer. Even because in that case that would be serving you better in your customer needs, which is also to speak the local language.

So, even if your points could be useful, next time I would consider to add my suggestions and see how it goes:

  1. Choose local small less popular B&B, farmhouses and similar.
  2. Ask for local restaurants, less touristic.
  3. Go to the local tourist information point and ask for these places and ask for places where you can find local people that don’t speak much your language or don’t bother much.
  4. Choose a local tourist guide for some extra activities asking to help you with local language as part of the deal.

All valid points. The most Spanish I was able to speak was with a taxi driver, since they are then serving you for the entire ride and do have some time for you and one bus driver, who didn´t speak much English and I was able to start talking to in Spanish. My conversation with the taxi driver was limited by the fact that my wife has zero Spanish experience, so I didn´t just want to leave her out of the conversation.

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I´d say the Spanish experiment mostly failed, but my vacation overall was certainly a success. I think what I´ll do is just find people here in Iceland who are trying to learn Icelandic, who can talk to me in their native language in return.

I might also put a bigger effort in trying to find conversation partners on the conversation exchange website. The people I tried to contact there who stated they wanted to learn Icelandic didn´t answer and may be inactive. The ones who contacted me all wanted to learn English, which is fine, but all but one did not speak a language I wanted to learn.

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Oh yes, taxi drivers and bus drivers (if they can speak depending on local laws) could be very good as well. In south America I took a lot of local buses (sometimes it’s a bit risky) and it was real fun to talk to them. Sometimes very chaotic but a great experience.

Valid point about your wife (family members or friends) and I understand the feeling. I tend to switch to the language that everybody understands too so to avoid leaving the others isolated. BUT this could be handled in a different way by making it more strategic with your wife from the beginning. So she knows that you’re training in those situation and she can have already other things to do (calculating more or less the time needed). You can already anticipate those situation in advanced.

I guess I would say if you performed the experiment, and got good results, then it wasn’t a failed experiment. Even (or especially) when they weren’t the desired results!

I find it hard to find good online conversation partners (hence I use so much italki). Some of it is my fault too. But from the people I know who have found a good individual, it works really well.

Yes I guess you could say, since I didn´t fail to make the experiment, it didn´t fail. I carried out the experiment to some degree at least and got a result that gave me some knowledge in some matters at least.

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Well my wife also wanted to ask the taxi driver about things. One sort of difficult thing about being a polyglot is that not everyone else around is going to be. My immediate family (my wife and daughters) can speak and understand Icelandic, English and German either fluently or semi-fluently, so it´s not too bad, but then there are 2 other languages I´m fluent in, 3 still that I´m semi-fluent in and yet 2 more that I have some ability in, where my family is mostly just in the dark.

I think I´ll try to travel a bit on my own to learn, but now travelling isn´t all that easy or enjoyable with the covid situation. I think the new omega variant is going to spread all through the world in the next months though and then things should start to get more normal again in my estimation.

Yes, I guess traveling will be a bit more difficult but also interacting with the most.

It also depends on how you organize your holiday with your wife and how you want to do things together. This is kinda tricky and it’s different from every couple.

For example, I have a couple of friends where he wants to do more sport activities even if they are on holiday and she wants to relax more. So they organize the time in a way that he has some part of the holiday for doing biking or some sport and in that time he does that she can relax on the beach or going to a spa. In this way they both do things they like in the same time and all the rest of the day can be spent together doing common activities.

I think this is very intelligent but it all depends on how the couple is.

So, if your wife knows and agrees that for you that particular holiday is a mix of relax and language work, you can organize before the activities for your language and she can be aware of it and maybe even help you in that. But all of that without interfering with her enjoying the holiday.

I believe that all of this can be part of your Spanish Experiment 2. :DD

Now you have material to create your second experiment and can be kinda of interesting. We need a sequel. :DD

Yes on many of our holidays we do split things a little like that, especially if we are visiting either her home country of Germany or some country where I´ve lived before and have friends in. I also sometimes go out to perform stand up comedy at comedy clubs and then I´ll do that on my own. On this holiday we hardly planned anything separate from each other, but we certainly will on future holidays.

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One takeaway from my trip to Gran Canaria is how I´d love to be able to stay there or in a similar place and work as a tour guide for a few months at least. Since there are tours in English, German and Swedish, I should totally be able to do that, but I feel I´d also need to get fluent in Spanish too.