Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Recent discovery: MyHappyPlanet.

No, I am not experiencing a Helly Kitty meltdown. It's a language exchange site. Perfect for someone who lives in the centre of Spain, but never seems to have opportunity or leisure to work on her Spanish!

MyHappyPlanet has elements of blogging and social networking. You choose a user name and password, fill in an unintrusive language profile, and - that's it really. It's in its Beta version, and a bit fiddly to navigate, but repays the time it takes to work out its little quirks. I signed up as a fluent English speaker wanting to learn conversational Spanish, and did a search for fluent Spanish speakers interested in improving their English. After trawling about 1o% of that particular database, I sent a smile (friend request) to several Spaniards and Latin-Americans based in Spain, and a couple of people in Latin America.

The next day, I spent several hours online, writing to those who had smiled back - basically doing a mailshot. Serious Spanish homework and - I hope - the start of a penfriend network.

It's my goal to be fluent in two years: an arbitrary goal, perhaps, but really no more than an extension of the effort we make whenever we move into a new area and set about making the transition from outsider to part of the neighborhood. One thing I learnt in Dubai is that if you operate in an English enclave, even though it's cultural rather than physical, you do not absorb the language of your host country by osmosis, and you remain an outsider.

I don't know if its possible to become fluent in another language in two years, while holding down the day job, but it's a goal that keeps me focused. For me, fluency - not just the token acquisition of a few phrases - is essential. One can get by - even in Madrid - with English and a few Spanish phrases, but I don't want to merely get by. I want to live here, read the novels and newspapers, go to the theatre and cinema, join in. And that's going to take some effort. Hence the mailshot. After this, as with Facebook, I can pop in and out as I have time. Let's just see what comes of it.

And it's fun. I had some lovely replies in Spanish and English - plus corrections of my letters. There are several communication options, including online chat and Skype, but they're not practical for me while I'm working unsocial hours. However, since several of my contacts are based here in Madrid, there is the appealing option of going for lunch or a coffee sometime, when we're ready. Once I've sifted out the axe murderers, of course!

Here's a sample (without corrections) of this week's deberes:


Cómo hablar a un desconocido...........? Tenemos un objetivo común. ¡Bueno! ¡Eso es! ¿Qué tal?

¿Has habido un bueno fin de semana? Hoy hace mucho frío en Madrid. ¿Hace igual en Barcelona? He visitado Barcelona hay dos años. ¿Es una ciudad guapa, no? Tengo una amiga querida allí.

Sin embargo, hemos (yo y mi marido) venido a Madrid porque ello es el capital, y porque es mas fácil por nuestros a aprender castellano, que castellano y catalán. ¡Claro!

Es muy posible que, despues de dos años aquí, vamos trasladar cerca de Tarragona, pero ahora, nuestra prioridad es a disfrutarnos de todo que ofrece Madrid, ¡y mejorar nuestro español!

Esta tarde, hemos visitado el Museo Arqueológico. Me interesan las artes de muchas edades y civilisaciones, y el exposición de Los Etruscos es excelente - bronce, piedra, oro - yelmas, joyerias, tumbas - todas tan guapas. Un otro fin de semana, deseamos mirar la reconstrucción de las cuevas de Altamira.

Pues ¡hasta luego!

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