Monthly Archives: April 2013

My Last Portuguese Class – A Debrief

Today I had my last Portuguese class. There were only two of us left, which meant that my first excursion into the territory of one the most melodious of Latin-based languages folded due to lack of numbers.

I already fessed up in a previous post that language classes are not exactly my forte. And this time, I had the (for me) novel experience of being taught almost exclusively in the target language from the very beginning, rather than via another language I’ve got at least a reasonable command of.

I can’t say I liked it. Not being able to understand the teacher’s explanations is surely the most frustrating experience on Earth, right after trying to suck water from a bowl of wet sand. I would have gotten way more out of this experience, had the teacher switched more readily to Spanish to drive home the salient points. Instead, she was bent on reiterating the same unintelligible monologues over and over again. She may as well have been harping on at me in Tagalog. Not what I call a satisfying classroom experience.

I realise that a lot of people learn English that way, because TEFL teachers, by and large, rarely speak the languages of the countries where they do their teaching. I’ve often wondered how this works exactly, especially with students who are starting from base camp. Do they all just point at each other and make animal noises? And why isn’t the TEFL teacher murder rate on a par with that of nurses in psychiatric hospitals…? So many questions…

I’ve had Spanish classes in 98% Spanish before, but I was already at intermediate level, so it wasn’t such a struggle. I don’t think that monolingual language classes are an ill-fated concept full-stop, but for total rookie, it’s pants. How do other language learners feel about this? Or, for that matter, TEFL teachers? If any of you with experience at either end of the beast would care put forward an opinion, I’d sure love to hear it.

Despite wanting to bang my head repeatedly against the razor-wired end of the Wailing Wall, it was still worth it. I knew no Portuguese at all when I turned up for my first class at the beginning of March, and now I know *something*. That’s the nice thing about starting from zero, I suppose, you can only stand to gain.

This is by no means the end of Project Portuguese. I’m going to continue studying on my own accord, there’s plenty of material on the interwebs. Any suggestions about good learning materials are very welcome, please drop me a comment.

We've all survived the experience... that calls for a round of cakes!

We’ve all survived the experience… that calls for a round of cakes!

Toledo Trails: Ambling from A To B

Yesterday afternoon, on my way to a friend’s house, I took a few pics. It was a dull, grey day with not much to commend itself… but there’s nothing like a stint of gratuitous photo posting on a Sunday morning 😉

…featuring, needless to say, the obligatory cat.

Roses in bloom - always photogenic, even against a grey sky

Roses in bloom – always photogenic, even against a grey sky

Said cat. When I spotted it, it was sitting slap bang in the middle of the stairs, bushy tail trailing coquettishly. Of course, by the time I had the camera in positing, it had scuttled off to the side, cowering and glaring at me.

Said cat. When I spotted it, it was sitting slap bang in the middle of the stairs, bushy tail trailing down coquettishly. Of course, by the time I got my camera out, the recalcitrant creature had scuttled off to the side, cowering and glaring at me.

The patio (or inner courtyard) of the building where my friend lives

The patio inside the building where my friend lives. And not a hair out of place!

Buy Property In Toledo! Comes With Plenty Of Character…

I spotted this gem of prime real estate for sale yesterday:

Toledo Houses

Note the “Krisis” graffiti on the little white door to the right

Too fancy for ya? Maybe this one’s more in your price range:

Toledo House…the plumbing might need a bit of work, though.

Here’s more on the ‘rustic Toledo’ theme, in case you missed it…

The 18-Month Toledo Review – And Where To Next…?

I’ve been living in Toledo for a year and a half now. From the outset, I thought I might stay here for two or three years, and seeing as I’m half way, it’s time for a review.
The main reasons I chose Toledo as my first place to live in Spain were as follows:

  1. It has (or rather, its inhabitants have) the ‘right’ accent. Considering that I moved to Spain with the firm goal to finally learn the language properly, this was of prime importance. The costas sure are nice, but they either speak barely intelligible aberrations of Castilian Spanish, or different languages altogether.
  2. You can be at Madrid Airport in two hours flat by public transport
  3. It’s a (very pretty) small-ish town almost devoid of foreigners (except for masses of tourists). When you’re struggling with a new language, it’s extremely tempting to get sucked into the expat bubble to spare yourself the initial pain. Had I moved, for example, to Madrid first off, I would probably have ended up speaking English or German most of the time, and learning very little Spanish in the process.
Ah, Toledo... I found out today that it's home to 45 convents. But not a single Cake Order! I won't be signing up.

Ah, Toledo… I found out today that it’s home to 45 convents. But not one of them dedicates itself to eating cakes. I won’t be signing up.

Have I considered staying in Toledo for longer… perhaps even indefinitely? Yes. I’ve made some really nice friends here, and my heart aches at the thought of having to say goodbye, but deep down I know that it just won’t do for me in the long term. I need to be in a place that’s bigger and a little more ‘international’.

More frequently than I’d like, I find myself craving face-to-face contact with least a handful of people of different nationalities, and/or with Spanish people who have lived in other countries for a while. The experience changes you profoundly many ways that are difficult to describe, and I have to have some direct exposure to people who can relate to this. Also, I dream about fresh sushi and a gob-scalding curry… but there’s none of that to be had here. It’s ham and tortilla all the way. In short, I miss variety, and not just the culinary kind.

I’ve been ruminating over whether or not I should move to Madrid. At first glance, this would seem the most convenient option. It’s only 70 miles from Toledo, there’s a fairly decent train connection, so I would be able to see my Toledo friends regularly. They also speak Castilian Spanish in Madrid. Needless to say, it’s international, as you’d expect from a capital city.

Trouble is, every time I go there (which isn’t very often, I must admit), it fails to inspire me. I find the city a bit bland and generic looking. On top of that, it suffers the exact same extremes of temperatures that I find difficult to bear in Toledo – freezing cold in the winter and 45 stifling degrees in July and August.

So, now I’m thinking… Barcelona. I’ve never actually been there (embarrassing or what!), but it looks absolutely glorious. It has both sea and mountains, an airport, and sushi must exist there. It just has to!

The one major drawback, apart from being expensive (but then again, so is Madrid), is the language issue. They speak Catalan, although everybody also speaks Castilian Spanish, which is the second official language. And…I have to concede that living in a bilingual city does appeal to me. It’s very international, and I’m sure I’d even find a bunch of Brazilians before long to help me work on my Portuguese. A virtually impossible feat in Toledo!

As it stands, I’m in no desperate rush to move. I’m still enjoying Toledo, I’ll probably be here for another year or so, especially as I’ve got big travel plans towards the end of the year and don’t want to go through the hassle of a move between now and then.

I know that there are a lot of expat bloggers in Spain, so if anyone has any thoughts on this, I’m open to suggestions…

Who Eats The Most Chocolate… And The Most Ice Cream?

For those of you who know me personally, this isn’t exactly a newsflash: It’s not just cakes for me. My sweet tooth stops at (almost) nothing. If I had to choose between chocolate, ice cream or cake for my last meal, I’d be hard pushed for a decision. Not everyone is such a competent allrounder, I realise. In fact, there are some pretty divisive national preferences.

[N.B.: The reason I’m not including my beloved cakes here is the difficulty of getting easily comparable data. Although the database I’m using does feature cakes under bakery products, this refers to packaged cakes, excluding the home-made component, which, I should imagine, comprises a major part of all cakeage consumed. Chocolate confectionery and ice cream, on the other hand, are mostly industrially produced, making for a more reliable comparison.]

Shock revelation number one: Ice cream is more popular than chocolate
On a global basis and going by weight, almost twice as much ice cream was eaten in 2012 than chocolate – 12.8 million tonnes vs. 7.3 million tonnes, which works out at 1.8kg and 1kg per head, respectively.

Now, for chocolate confectionery, I would have plonked for Switzerland and Belgium spearheading the per capita consumption charts, but I’m slightly off. The UK led in 2012 with 11kg per person, followed by Switzerland (9.5kg), Ireland (9.4kg) and Germany (8.2kg).

As for ice cream, I expected the US to come out tops, but wrong again! It’s Australia and New Zealand claiming the top scoop, with 13.7kg and 12.6kg per head in 2012, respectively. Next up is Finland with 10.4kg. The US and Canada follow in fourth and fifth position with 9.4kg and 8.2kg. Italy, the spiritual home of ice cream, ranks fifth.

National preferences – chocolate vs. ice cream

Those frequent scenes in sitcoms and movies where the girl, after a tiff with her boyfriend, pulls a tub of ice cream out of the freezer to console herself, always struck me as particularly ‘American’. Is it true that people in the US prefer ice cream while Europeans are more partial to chocolate?

Well, it seems the US most definitely has a proclivity for ice cream over chocolate. US consumers made do with just 4.4kg of chocs per head in 2012, which is less than half of their ice consumption. Australians’ ice cream intake exceeded that of chocolate close to three times. Britons, however, gobbled almost double the amount of chocolate compared to ice cream. Must have something to do with the weather…

Italians, no big surprise there, exhibit a notable preference for ice cream over chocolate, putting away 7.3kg vs. 2.6kg, respectively. French tastes, by comparison, are evenly weighted, with just a bit over 4kg per capita consumed of both. Belgium also has a fairly balanced approach, albeit slightly more weighted towards the chocolatey end of things.

This (evidently local) car was parked just opposite Toledo cathedral. Not that they sell ice cream in there, although it might boost attendance if they did... For a developed country economy, the Spanish are quite abstemious where sweet stuff is concerned. In 2012, they managed 5.8kg of ice cream, which is borderline respectable, but a measly 2.1kg of chocolate

This (evidently local) car was parked just opposite Toledo cathedral. Not that they sell ice cream in there, although it might boost attendance if they did… For a developed country economy, the Spanish are quite abstemious where sweet stuff is concerned. In 2012, they managed 5.8kg of ice cream, which is borderline respectable, but a measly 2.1kg of chocolate

What are the most popular brands?

Going by annual retail value sales rather than total volume sales this time, Cadbury’s, a British brand that was bought by US food giant Kraft (now called Mondelez International) in 2010, is the world’s most popular chocolate brand, followed by Snickers and M&M’s, both owned by Mars Inc. Hershey’s ranks fourth, Galaxy/Dove (Mars) fifth and Reese’s, also owned by Hershey Co., sixth.

Globally, the three biggest chocolate confectionery manufacturers are Mars, Mondelez International (formerly known as Kraft) and Nestlé. Yes, yes, there are hundreds of good reasons to boycott Nestlé, which is still world’s biggest food company… but flash one Chunky KitKat at me, and they all melt away… I’m just weak 😦

In ice cream, Magnum is the global favourite, followed by Cornetto, and Dreyer’s/Edy’s in third place. The first two are owned by Unilever, the latter by Nestlé. Häagen-Dazs ranks fourth. Unilever and Nestlé are the world’s biggest ice cream makers.


[For data source, click here]

The Most Blossom-Laden Tree In All Of Toledo

A couple of weeks ago, I already put up a picture of this tree in my Spring Arrives In Toledo post. Now with the warm weather kicking in, the tree has finally exploded in its full glory, so I thought I’d post another pic. And the scent is absolutely divine…

Toledo Flowering Tree

Toledo’s Jolly Windows

I’ve been out in the sunshine picture hunting. I keep thinking… one day soon, I’ll run out of themes. But Toledo being Toledo, there’s always something to snap at. This week it’s windows. Quaint, colourful, crumbling, cheerful, cluttered, practical, downright puzzling and even fake(!) – it’s all there.

Toledo Window

Been watching this one very carefully. Every time I walk past, there’s two more flower pots

Window with pinwheel

The cheeriest pinwheel in existence

Toledo Window

Plastic is fantastic…

Toledo Window

Nice effort on the window boxes. Plasterer due anytime soon…?

Toledo Windows

Bit on the garish side, but… it’s got something

Toledo Window

Toledo Window With Washing

No garden or patio? Not a problem. But it sure helps if all your clothes are tiny…

Toledo Window With Cat

There was some serious eyeballing going on between the two of us… leaving absolutely no doubt over who was boss of this balcony

Toledo Window With Wheelbarrow

A very strategically positioned wheelbarrow, that. Must be a bathroom window…

Toledo Painted-On Window

And if you can’t afford a real window, or it’s just too much hassle to move the wardrobe, you can always paint one on

Why I Don’t Like Language Classes

Sounds like a bit of a shocker coming from me, doesn’t it. But it’s true – language classes make me feel stressed and incompetent.

After last week’s Portuguese lesson, my friend and classmate Sofia remarked that I hadn’t been having a very good time in class that evening. Probably, so she surmised, because of my toothache. (I’m having some dental work done at the moment, but the pain is fairly well controlled by painkillers)

No, Sofia, this is how I am, ALL THE TIME, in language classes.

She’s going to have to get used to it.

My pet hate is having to read aloud. As a teenager studying Russian, I always dreaded the part where we were taking turns to read aloud from the textbook. I would practice for hours at home alone in my room, to the point where knew the text almost by heart, but it was no use. In class, my windpipe would constrict, and my pronunciation was all over the place. It was pretty much the same sweaty-palmed experience in my English class.

It’s not a fear of public speaking per se. Although I don’t particularly relish the first five minutes, I can stand up in front of hundreds of people and give fairly engaging presentation – I even enjoy it, as long as I know what I’m talking about.

When I worked as a Braillist for six years, part of the job was reading aloud to (blind) colleagues who were checking the Braille against the print version. Totally fine – I was in the room with only one other person who I was comfortable with. But as soon as there’s a classroom, an ‘audience’ and an expectant teacher involved, I completely go to pieces.

Do you feel like going in to hiding in your language class? Raquel, my intercambio, clearly does. But I think this was more to do with me taking a picture of her, rather than feeling shy about speaking German...

Do you feel like going into hiding in your language class? Raquel, my intercambio, clearly does. But I think this was more to do with me taking a picture, rather than her feeling shy about speaking German…

It’s not just reading aloud that frazzles me. When it’s my turn to construct a sentence or come up with a basic line of dialogue, more often than not I get stuck, out of pure nervousness. It doesn’t help that I’m a reticent foreign language speaker who hates making mistakes. When I’m not 100% sure, I’d much rather not say anything at all.

I’m not alone in this, I realise. A good friend of mine told me that he didn’t start speaking until he was four years old. Then, one fine day, he pointed at a vehicle parked outside their house, asking, in a perfectly formed sentence in the genitive case, “Wessen Auto ist das?” (“Whose car is this?”). This rather late start, btw, didn’t stop him from becoming multilingual.

It’s obvious that my performance failure has nothing to do with other people’s expectations of me, but is down to my fear of not measuring up to my own.

The upshot of it is, even though I’m generally considered to be “good” at languages, I struggle like hell in certain settings. I’m not like a fish in water as soon as I step into a language class, far from it. I get caught up in boxing against my own shadow. Six years of therapy should sort me out…

Despite this, I evidently still go to language classes and I do get a great deal out of them. So, I guess, it’s more like a love-hate relationship.

As an aside, my Portuguese class is about to fold, due to lack of numbers. We’re down to just three. I may go elsewhere in May if another class can be found, or continue on my own. I have placed an ad on a website looking for speakers of Brazilian Portuguese who want to improve their English or their German. Let’s see what comes of it…