In pursuit of fulfilling my primary directive, which is to become trilingual, I engage in “intercambios”. These entail meeting up with local people who want to practice either English or German and who, in exchange, don’t flinch when I torture them with my abysmal Spanish.
Fuelled by the economic crisis, and the fact that foreign language teaching in Spanish secondary schools is just as crap as it is in the UK, demand is huge. The facts that Toledo is small and foreigners scarce on the ground are a total boon for me.
Predictably, most Spaniards want to learn English, but there is also quite a bit of interest in German, because Germany is where the jobs are right now. There’s a tidal wave young and eager jobseekers rolling northwards, aided, in some miniscule part, by me. Good luck to them, I say!
How do I go about ensnaring my victims? Well, the majority I bait with an internet ad, some are driven into my outstretched tentacles by a local language school, and the rest are referred on by my carefully brainwashed stock of active disciples.
The brief email exchange, which preludes every first meeting, routinely confuses people. This is because my written Spanish is apparently so perfect, that my prospective clientele is fooled into thinking that I’m the one wanting to learn English or German from them. As soon as we meet face-to-face, though, they realise that they were grossly mistaken. On email, I can waste hours brooding over every word, deliberating whether the dreaded subjunctive is required or not, and I dither for absolutely aeons before picking the appropriate verb tense – all of which would be too much to bear for a conversation partner with a pulse.
To avoid being inundated by applicants, I’m becoming ever more picky. In my three-liner advertisement, I specify that I’m looking for people who speak their target language to at least upper intermediate level. This is because I enjoy conversation, and I like to switch from one language to the other without throttling the flow or purposely having to change the topic. Going from a stimulating disparagement of faith healers to naming pieces of cutlery just doesn’t do it for me.
Apart from language level, another thing I’ve specified in my “wanted” ad is a minimum age of 25, but I’m finding now that this is still far too low. It turns out that it is commonplace for Spanish people to be living with their parents well into their thirties. Youth unemployment stands at a staggering 50%, making it impossible for youngsters to fly the nest. At times, though, I cannot help but wonder whether the reluctance to strive for independence is not a major contributing factor to this sad statistic, rather than the consequence.
Anyway, the upshot is this: I find start-up conversations featuring sentences like “how many bedrooms are there in your parents’ house” less than thrilling. I’m currently toying with the idea of revising the minimum age upwards to 30+, making it implicit that some life experience in the adult realm wouldn’t go amiss. I really don’t mind if people are screwed up and hopeless in all sorts of other ways. We’d have even more in common then!