Category Archives: Language Learning

Foreigner Beware Of Crinkly Forehead

A few weeks ago, I went to the doctor’s. It was a big event for me. I’d never been in need of medical attention before. Not in Spain, anyway. I’m of robust design, you see. I don’t pander to fancy foods that can’t be eaten with a spoon and I don’t get illnesses that can’t be cured by spending an afternoon in bed. However, a rebellious mole on my back was starting to morph into an octopus and it needed to be stopped by a professional.

Health centres are confusing places. I glanced around in a daze for ages until spotting a desk with a person who wasn’t either bellowing into a phone or being harangued by patient-staff scrum. I approached the woman stationed there and told her that I had an appointment at 11:30. Turns out that this was the desk where you make appointments and not the desk where you go when you already have an appointment. Once this was clarified, I asked her where I needed to go next. Up to the third floor, she said.

I followed her directions and arrived in a big central waiting room surrounded by four walls with lots of doors with names on them. Only then did it occur to me that I was missing a vital piece of information.

I returned to the desk lady for help. “Sorry,” I said, “I don’t actually know which doctor I’m supposed to be seeing. Could you tell me their name, please?”

And there it was.

The dreaded Crinkly Forehead.

I repeated my query, only to be met with yet more crinkles towering over a blank stare. I asked again. The crinkles assumed attack formation. I tried once more, in really simple Spanish, words spaced at one second intervals (I’ve had some practice at this, as you can tell). I repeated my question three more times. Still nothing. In an act of desperation, I grabbed a pen and paper from the desk and wrote it down. Finally, the name of my physician was divulged.

The most flabbergasting aspect of Crinkly Forehead is that it can spring into action BEFORE verbal communication even has a chance to commence. This happened to me in my local phone shop. As I handed my phone to the girl and drew breath to ask if she could please top it up with twenty bucks, I found myself confronted with a quizzically cocked head disfigured by crinkle over crinkle over fucking crinkle! They were humping each other, I swear! Then they called for re-inforcements and a bundle of veins as thick as anacondas after a meal of jungle elephants joined the wrestling match and… Christ, I did not know that the rosy baby bottom face of a twentynothing could even do that!

I’m guessing her inner thought process must have gone something like this: She looks like a foreigner, so whatever she is going to say will be incomprehensible. But I will try to help, because I’m a good person. But… what if she tries to make me speak in English?!?! Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God! I’ve only studied it for ten years at school, I can’t say a word!!! What am I going to do, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!?! At this point, she reaches the conclusion that it’s safest just not to understand anything.

The Crinkly Forehead is the nemesis of every language learner, tourist, or foreigner in general. It is the iron curtain, the NATO missile defence shield and the wall Trump is gonna build all rolled into one.

Once the contortions commence, once you spot the merest ripple, the slightest tell-tale twitch in the face that may have been smiling benevolently at you just a heartbeat ago, dear language learner, you are doomed. It is the manifestation of Blue Screen of Death in a real live person. A re-boot can only be effected once the obstruction has been removed, and the obstruction, my hapless foreign friend, is YOU.

Attempting to engage with Crinkly Forehead is not like flogging a dead horse. It’s like flogging all the sausages, lasagnes, burgers and chicken nuggets that its macerated remains found their way into, expecting the clapped-out old mare to re-assemble and run the Grand National. It ain’t gonna happen. No chance. Go home. Talk to Siri.

I, my dear people, will be talking to my mole. At least it is forthcoming, if only with tentacles.

 

I think we all need a restorative wedge of cake after this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Keen observers will have noticed that this very same specimen featured in the previous post, but from a different angle. C’mon… it still looks delicious, does it not?! If it fails to appeal, maybe hairy chested man in the back will do it for you…?

 

[Note for nerds: This post was also published on my new language blog http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com – please pop over for a visit to discover what you’ve been missing!]

 

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The 5 Most Annoying Pieces of Language Learning Advice

The more arduous a task, the more pages you’ll find devoted to “shortcuts” and “revolutionary techniques”. Language learning is a prime example. Bah humbug, I say.  Below are my five all-time favourite bullshit tips. (Incidentally, they all have one thing in common: Their faulty rationales are based on a tiny nugget of truth. Once you shine a light on them, though, they quickly turn into fool’s gold.)

“Learn like a baby”

This one has got to be the top fallacy coursing through the language forums. Actually, it’s not so much learners’ forums that propagate this myth, it’s companies trying to sell their “super effective” language teaching method, which will have you learning your new language with about as much effort as a rosy-cheeked infant sucking a candy cane.

Yeah. Right. First of all, have you ever observed a young child learning its first language? It makes a ton of mistakes and is corrected by its elders every two seconds. It’s definitely NOT a doddle for anyone involved. And neither are these companies going to supply you with a set of “language babysitters” to bake cookies with you and follow you around the house imparting all that useful domestic vocab every three-year-old has down pat.

Second, you are NOT a child. You cannot learn as fast as they do. And there is an even greater obstacle: You already have at least one language firmly installed into your brain. An old dog CAN learn new tricks, but there’ll be blood, sweat and a lot of yowling involved.

Any new language will, inevitably, be filtered through the linguistic framework that is already firmly imprinted into your hard-as-dried-window-putty grey matter; your adult mind is irreversibly “contaminated”, it will never revert to its pliable, pristine, virgin state. Besides grappling with unfamiliar grammatical structures, you’re highly unlikely to ever reproduce the full register of sounds. In other words, no matter how good you get, you’ll be speaking your second language with an accent, even if it’s only a residual, barely noticeable one.

Expecting an adult to acquire language in the same way a young child does is like expecting a frog to sprout a fifth leg. Well, bad news: that leathery old croaker is no longer a nimble little tadpole. And neither are you. And that’s that. That new leg will have to be a strap-on.

OldFrog

Grain of truth: There is something to be said for copying native speakers conscientiously, learning the appropriate language for a given situation and, above all, not overthinking things. A capital advantage, that very young children have, is that they do not question, they just accept. (Well, actually, kids DO ask a lot of questions from a certain age, but those are mainly to do with their surroundings). An adult language learner would do well take a leaf out of their book and not get bogged down in examining every single idiomatic expression in minute detail. “But it’s NOT logical!” is not an argument you can ever throw at a language and expect to win. Nor are you likely to hear it from a toddler.

“Start speaking the language from day 1”

Nice idea.

Now back to reality: You cannot launch into a conversation if all you have is two dozen words and no clue how to string them into an intelligible sentence. Most people need a great deal more input and many hours of conscious listening before they are confident enough to actually speak. There is nothing wrong with that.

And, even more importantly: there is nothing whatsoever wrong with YOU if you don’t feel much like talking in the early stages. In fact, the most accomplished foreign language speakers I know are reluctant speakers who took their time before starting to verbalise their thoughts.

Grain of truth: Your mouth actually needs to practise making those new sounds, and the earlier the better. It’s no good just listening and thinking the words. Some people even practice with themselves in front of a mirror. I’ve not tried this, but I can imagine that it might actually work. You need to say the words out loud, repeat what you hear, and, whenever possible, be corrected by a native speaker. It’s just that I would not really class these early attempts of parroting words and phrases as “speaking the language”, but this is how certain language courses market themselves.

“Don’t translate – just think in the language!”

The rationale behind this little gem of ill-conceived tripe is as follows: Thinking first of what you want to say in your own language and then translating it into the target language takes an aeon. Hence, if you just ditched that time-consuming first part, you’d be virtually fluent straight away!

Let me give you an analogy: A management consultant is called in to make an airline more efficient. The objectives are to save on fuel and get the planes to their destinations faster. The consultant analyses all the processes, procedures, inputs and outputs in great detail. Then he puts his conclusion to the senior pilot: “Well, it seems that 60% of your fuel and 30% of your time input goes into take-off and ascent. We need to get rid of these two phases and just focus on cruising.”

You see the flaw in the logic, huh? In order to get cruising in a new language, you first need to get your capabilities up to the right altitude. You cannot possibly start off there. I no longer translate from German to English or from English/German to Spanish or whatever, I just switch. It took me years to be able to do this. I still have to laboriously convert every sodding word into French (since I’m a beginner), and it’s a total bitch.

Grain of truth: You will not speak fluently while you’re still needing to translate every word and every phrase. However, you cannot magically circumvent this phase – that would be a classic case of putting the cart before the horse! Translating in your head does not mean that you are inherently inefficient, stupid, or doing it wrong. You are just at that stage in your learning right now, that’s all.

“Adopt another persona – act like you’re of X nationality”

I remember being quite horrified when I came across this one for the first time. I can’t even think of how it might work in practice without having to cringe. Gallic shoulder shrugs performed by French learners to the point of articular dislocation? Students of German yelling “Jawoll mein Oberst!” at four hundred decibels like in a WW2 movie?

What could “impersonating” someone of another nationality/culture possibly entail if not a rendition of lame stereotypes? If there’s one surefire way of alienating the people whose language you’re trying to learn, then this has got to be it. Humans across the globe, as diverse as their cultural backgrounds may be, do not generally take kindly to fake people, and even less so if they appear to be ridiculing them.

Frenchman

Grain of truth: Once you’ve lived in another country for years, you adopt new mannerisms, hand gestures, facial expressions, cadence and speech rhythms etc. We mirror what we see around us, this happens quite naturally as we gradually adapt to a different social environment. It’s a basic survival mechanism. When a bi/multi-lingual human switches between languages, their way of thinking changes and a different aspect of their personality comes to the fore. It’s not an act. It’s who they are.

“You just pick it up”

It’s a pervasive misconception that all it takes to learn a foreign language is to go and live in a place where the language is spoken, and, hey presto, give it a year or two, you’ll be gabbing away like a native.

Remember, you’re an adult, not a preschooler. Without at least some targeted study of these alien structures, your brain just won’t know what to do with all this confusing information. It’s like seeds bouncing off a parched, unploughed field – in this unreceptive environment, they have nowhere to take root. 

In order to assimilate new input, your brain needs to be taught to recognise, sort and categorise before it can deploy. You actively need to help this process by constructing a whole new set of “boxes” in your mind. New boxes have a habit of arriving in flat-pack format and they turn into a usable facility only by filling them, bit by bit, with new grammar, vocab and idiomatic expressions acquired by focused studying and real-life input working in tandem.

Grain of truth: Immersion rules.

Cake rules, too!

Cake rules even more…

Have you ever been seduced into following some ingenious-sounding language learning advice which absolutely did not work for you? What was it and why did it fail? I’d love to have your feedback 🙂

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

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I Spoke French. And God, Did It Hurt!

I’ve been learning French since May, shut away at home, curtains drawn, eyes (and ears) glued to the computer screen. But there comes a point when the input of a real living, breathing human being is required.

Some of you may remember me mentioning a few months ago that my goal was to join a local French conversation group in September. Well, it didn’t happen. Why? Coz I cannot speak. And who wants to be sitting there like a nun in a condom factory? Not me.

I know from previous experience that there’s only one remedy for my selective muteness: Brute force. It’s a job for a professional bully, for someone who sits down opposite me and won’t budge until the cake lady talks. A cat o’ nine tails would speed up the process, but not many language teachers carry that one in their resources folder, I have found.

Yup, that would bring out my chatty side...

You really want to bring out my chatty side…?

So, a friend of mine recommended a teacher, and on Thursday, I trotted off to my first lesson.

Poor woman, I should have prepared her. As you may have guessed by now, I’m not a terribly rewarding student first off. It’s not that I complain or turn into Miss Bossy Boots. But it can’t be much fun crowbarring sentences out of somebody while they pull a face like they’ve been sucking lemons injected with battery acid.

I also have a list of activities/subjects I absolutely detest in language classes. One of them is poems. My new teacher hands me a list of tongue twisters, which is kind of in the same category, only a million times worse. She tries to convince me that it is the best way of nailing the pronunciation. I do NOT agree. To me, it’s like being plonked into Bombay city centre at rush hour for your first driving lesson. Surely the best place to learn how to start a car and lurch along in first gear is a quiet parking lot?  My sour lemon face reaches a level of contortedness on a par with the Gordian Knot. Slightly alarmed, she lets me read aloud through a couple of short texts aimed at preschoolers. That’s better.

Contents of my head

Contents of my head

Still smiling and chirpy, she drags me through the French alphabet, gives me a couple of handy pronunciation hits, cajoles me into squeezing a couple of half-baked sentences through my gritted teeth.

She tells me I have gazpacho in my head. I like gazpacho, but I can tell it’s not meant as a compliment.

Before one of us has the chance to collapse in a sobbing heap on the floor, the doorbell rings and the next student arrives. I leave so frazzled that I forget to pay her.

I’ll be back next week. Unless she’s left town…

You never know, I might graduate to bouillabaisse one day...

…and you never know, I might graduate to bouillabaisse one day…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *

[Why am I learning French? See here for the answer: Scratching a 30-Year Itch

 

 

 

 

Language Learning: Portuguese Potholes

This language learning malarkey is a bumpy old ride. One minute, you’re shouting perfectly coutured phrases from the rooftops; the next minute, the roof gives in and you’re on the cold concrete floor, spreadeagled, coughing up blood and dust.

I was on a total roll with my Portuguese in early summer. After two years of slogging away at it, I felt that I’d had some kind of breakthrough: I was chattering away to a bunch Portuguese people over Skype several times a week. Sometimes I even understood what they were saying to me and vice versa. A trip to Portugal in the first week of July saw me handling all the touristy stuff in Portuguese without breaking into a sweat (except when I accidentally asked for cock in a supermarket, see here for that story).

All was well until I took a one-month break from Portuguese in August while visiting my family in Germany. But on my return home to Spain, I found to my horror that I was suddenly “back to the mistakes of the beginning”, as my Portuguese teacher put it when I resumed my lessons with her in September. My Skype chats also dried up that month after a couple of fruitless conversations.

I have no idea how a mere four weeks of taking your eyes off the ball can cause such a mother of a setback. All I know is that I’m mighty peeved.

Well, no point throwing in the towel. I’ve invested too much. And I really really like Portuguese. It sounds cool and it has hilarious expressions.

And then, this Monday morning, a tiny ray of light… finally! The previous week, my teacher had suggested I’d join one of her other students for a conversation class. We’d already had a couple of attempts at this a year and a half ago, but said student was quite advanced, while I could barely string a sentence together at that point, and so we gave up on the idea pretty quickly.

Anyway, this week’s little Monday threesome turned out to be a very gratifying experience all round. We hopped across a plethora of topics, from fish feed to Portuguese rugs to the pitfalls of teaching Spanish in China. We wilfully mutilated the grammar, but conversation flowed and we laughed like drains. My classmate, who kindly gave me a lift home afterwards, remarked how much more fluent I was compared to last time we did this.

I guess that’s the thing with language learning. It’s like building a mountain out of gravel. Sometimes, when you pour another bucketful on top, it just slides down the sides taking the tip with it and all you can see at that moment is that your pile has lost height. Only by stepping back you realise that you’ve actually broadened the base, allowing you to construct a more expansive, bigger mountain in the long term. All you have to do is to keep heaping onto it. Bit by bit. Steadily and relentlessly. And remind yourself that, to fully appreciate how far you’ve come, you need to take the long-term perspective.

 

 

Is Learning Three Romance Languages At The Same Time A Route To Insanity?

I ask myself that question every day. And whether an overdose of irregular verbs can make one go blind. I think the only reason why my grey matter hasn’t liquified yet and made a gushing exit through my left nostril is that I’m at different stages with my languages, so the learning activities I engage in are quite varied. Every time terms like “partitive carbuncles” or whatever give me the urge to go and drown myself in the toilet, I remember that, in the end, it’s all about wrangling a bunch of words into the right order, and that if a four-year-old can do it, so can I.

Spanish – Airily Advanced

The frustration-fun balance has decidedly shifted in favour of the latter. But it sure took a lot of blood sweat and tears to get there. Those of you you’ve been with me from the beginning will probably remember my whiny rants and tantrums. I’ve been living in Spain for nearly four years now, although I don’t have what you’d call “full immersion”. I work from home in English all day. Hence, my progress was a lot slower than I had initially expected.

It’s been a very different experience from the one I had with English when I moved to the UK 25 years ago. I had a job in a local company and was sharing a house with British people, and so I was forced to communicate in English all day long. It was tough in the beginning, but I made progress at lightning speed. My situation here in Spain is very different, and so I’ve had to learn to moderate my expectations without feeling like a total failure. I’ve come to accept – gnashing my teeth an’ all – that it will take a good while longer until I get to squirt the icing on the cake and achieve the level of competence I strive for.

Nevertheless, I can read proper books and watch films without struggling. I can have in-depth conversations about complex topics. I can hold my own in groups.

I still very much consider myself a learner: I look up words every day, I google expressions, I bug my long-suffering friends with questions, I ask them to correct my grammar. Besides the odd clarification, though, I no longer need “special consideration” from the people around me.

Of course, my Spanish nothing like my German or my English. I’d say I’m about 70% there. I’m even starting to “sound like myself” on occasions. Being able to communicate, even if you’re fairly proficient, is a completely different kettle of fish from sounding like your true self. I have tackled the subject in this post, for those of you who are interested:

Language Matters: Do You Sound Like Yourself?

Blue Flowers

Portuguese – Interminably Intermediate

This has been tricky. It’s virtually impossible to find any good quality intermediate-level teaching materials in European Portuguese. It’s all smooth, melodious Brazilian, when what I want is the bushy, impenetrable Peninsular version replete with shshtshshtshshhh sounds, dog-chewed vowels and pronoun arrangements that make ikebana seem like kindergarten foolery, because, when I travel abroad, it tends to be to nearby Portugal – I love it there.

So, I had to take special measures. I have a Portuguese teacher (from Lisbon) whom I see once a week for 1-2-1 lessons. I watch children’s cartoons, which is something that I’d never even considered before, but if you’re stuck for resources, you have to take what you can get. I’m also chatting to a bunch of nice Portuguese people over Skype two or three times a week (I found them on conversationexchange.com).

And yet, It’s my Portuguese, which I’m struggling with most right now. The intermediate stage can be disheartening, and it drags on forever. It’s also extremely dangerous territory: If you stop, even just for a few months,  you risk losing everything, while, at the same time, you gaze with trepidation at the vast expanse of treacherous linguistic swamp you’ve got to wade through before you get any good.

It’s not like being a beginner, when you’re swept up in the initial thrill of new discovery, or when you’re an advanced learner having fun filling in the gaps. I’ve written about this vexatious stretch of language-learning hell here:

The Messy Morass of the Intermediate Language Learner.

French – Bare Bones Beginner

I’m now in my third month of French (see here how and why that started) and still very much in the honeymoon phase where everything is new and exciting. I’m determined to stretch it out to the max. Please do not tell me about how crazy the sentence structures are going to get later on, I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW! Thanks.

Unlike hapless learners European Portuguese, budding Francophones are spoilt with a wealth of free online resources, which means that I can cover the same topics by watching six or seven different YouTube videos without getting bored.

There is also an unexpected benefit to being a beginner in French: Portuguese is no longer my worst language! I feel stupidly happy about this 🙂

So, to sum up, I don’t think that learning several languages at once is necessarily a recipe for disaster. Having said that, I did bang my head against the wall more than a few times when I first started learning Portuguese two years ago, because my Spanish was still quite wobbly back then, see here:

Project Multilingual: Two timing troubles.

Next up: The Italian challenge!

…OK, I am not that crazy…

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

 

Scratching A 30-Year Itch

Learn French? Moi? Nevah in a million years! That is SO NOT part of my linguistic plan for world domination… I’ve got enough on my plate with Spanish and Portuguese.

That’s what I would have told you four months ago.

I guess it may have been another classic case of the Lady Of The Cakes doth protest too much.

Deep down, not knowing a word of French (besides “merci”, which is a German chocolate brand and “bonjour”, which was plastered in glittery letters all over a T-shirt I owned in the 80’s) has always bugged me. Maybe French had been on my subconscious agenda for long time…after all, living first in Germany, then in the UK and now in Spain, I’ve been circling La France like a hyaena an unsuspecting antelope.

I started not learning French thirty years ago. The first missed opportunity presented itself at school in the form of elective classes. We had four options to choose from to supplement the standard curriculum. One of them was French and another one was EDP (Electronic Data Processing). I was torn. Heart vs. head. My Dad said that computers were the future. Since when did I ever do what Daddy told me to? Never. Except this time.

It was a terrible decision. IT class in the 80’s was a black screen with angry dark green letters on it. You had to type in stuff like C:\DOS\>path of despair<\ and wait for something mindnumbingly mundane to happen. Except that it didn’t, because you had forgotten a colon or your slash had leanings to the right instead of the left. That’s if you got to type anything at all, because one computer was shared between four people – the school could only afford eight machines, because its entire tech budget had gone on installing a state-of-the-art language lab that we were ushered into once a year, made to stand in awe of for thirty minutes, but not allowed to actually use.

But I digress… back to my Computersaurus Studies … does anyone remember punch cards…? This is how data was saved, as holes in bits of cardboard, before floppy disks, before diskettes, before USB sticks, before humans even knew what to do with their opposable thumbs.

Source: SAS und Chiffrierdienst

Ever glimpsed one of these?! Extracted by Computerpalaentologists from a bed of fossilised Betamax deposits, dating from the days when The Cloud was but a wet fart on the horizon…. (Source: SAS und Chiffrierdienst)

I abandoned ship after one torturous year. By then, unfortunately, it was too late to join the French group, and I missed out on three years of French. I still remember the teacher, a doe-eyed woman with short brown hair, whose upper jaw never moved when she spoke. How did she manage to produce any sounds at all, never mind French ones? I never got to find out 😦

In the ensuing decades, not knowing any French has been, if not an outright impediment, then at least a niggly, twisty, and slightly shameful thorn in my side. Two years ago, for example, I discovered Stefan Zweig (a long-dead Austrian author), who had the annoying habit of slipping smatterings of untranslated French into is prose. Also, people around me tend to make the assumption that I know French, like you’d just expect The Queen always to be wearing knickers, and pharmacies to carry Alka-Seltzer, anything else would be unnatural. A few months back, when a friend responded with “chez nous” to my question of where we were meeting that day, I had to feed these two words into the Obliterator Of Linguistic Common Sense, aka Google Translate, just to be sure.

And so, two months ago, I finally decided to bite the baguette. I’ve not yet uttered a single word of French to any living soul, but I’m listening to grammar and vocab podcasts daily in tandem with other online teaching resources. Luckily, there is a wealth of free material of excellent quality out there, especially at beginner’s level.

A girl needs a goal to keep herself motivated. To this end, I’m going to join a French conversation group in September, although it is making knees rattle just a bit when I think about it. Two of the guys from my German book club go regularly. They meet every week in a bar across the square from my building. It couldn’t be any more convenient. However, I have no illusions about my upcoming performance. I’m painfully aware that my conversational “level”, if you can even call it that, dangles somewhere south of zero while the other attendees are all fluent. I know from experience that my having a basic-but-coherent conversation in French is still a year away, possibly two. Only one paltry month and a half stands between me and total humiliation. But at least, that’s the one thing I’m getting pretty good at, as those of you who read my last post will know.

I shall need plenty of this to keep up my energies...

I shall need daily helpings of these to keep up my concentration…

Asking for Cock in a Portuguese Supermarket

There are some linguistic faux pas that are mildly amusing, and then there are those that you’ll be reliving for the rest of your life with your innards squirming like a bucket of maggots under a floodlight. And, oh boy, this one will stay right up there in #1 position until the day I draw my last breath.

But let’s first set the scene. In June 2015, my friend Noelia and I embarked on a drive across the searingly hot Spanish Peninsula, from our homes in central Spain all the way down to the Algarve, Portugal. My Portuguese teacher kindly let us use her sea view apartment in the little town of Alvor for a week – an offer two gals obsessed with Portuguese food could not possibly refuse.

All was perfect with the abode, except for the minor matter of flat remote control battery, which meant that we could not access our allocated parking space. The next morning, we made our way to the local supermarket to buy a replacement battery (as well as loading up on delicious Portuguese cheese).

Now, the Portuguese language is rather tricky to pronounce, and, as in all languages, small deviations can make a huge difference to the meaning of words. Even though Noelia and I both speak fairly passable tourist-level Portuguese and we thought we knew the word for “battery” (pilha), our attempts at locating one in the store was but met by several pairs of quizzically raised eyebrows.

Our remote control required an N-size battery, which is even tinier than AAA, and so “We need a really small one, like this” were among the words that accompanied our hand gestures involving tumb and index finger indicating the size of the desired object.

Eventually, it dawned on the beleaguered members of staff what it was we were looking for, and they ushered us to the appropriate shelf, but, in the end, the store did not sell this particular kind.

While waiting in line to pay for our mountains of cheese, we were discussing, with obvious frustration, how hard it could possibly be to get hold of a silly little battery.

At this point, the guy behind us in the queue, a man in his sixties who could not help earwigging our (Spanish) conversation, cracked up laughing. Once he had managed to recover sufficient breath (but not a straight face), he told us what we had, in fact, been asking for.

Suddenly the staff’s perturbed facial expressions made sense… The helpful bystander to our phonetic phallacy also reliably informed us that, in Portugal, they did not, in fact, have small ones.

It subsequently transpired that Noelia, despite being blessed with a rather forgiving Mediterranean complexion, does not carry off the shade of beetroot very well. As for myself, I can’t say, as I had cringed into a tiny little ball ready to be swallowed by the Earth that was surely about to open up its merciful maws.

Salt cod (bacalhau) on offer at the supermarket we can never ever go back to

Salt cod (bacalhau) on offer at the supermarket that we can never ever ever go back to

Alvor beach, which we DID return to. Frequently.

Alvor beach, which we DID return to. Frequently.

Alvor Beach - rocks

Alvor Harbour

Me trying to choose a cake in a blur...

Me, in a blur, engaged in the task of choosing a cake

...and the result: An enormous marshmallow-inspired slab of a cake!

…and the happy end result: A crockery-busting squishy slab of a cake!

This wasn't the only cake occasion. Here is a delicious three-layered composition with figs and almonds

Needless to say, there were plenty more cake occasions. Here is a delicious three-layered composition of figs and almonds

Portuguese custard tart. Absolutely mandatory.

Portuguese custard tart. Absolutely mandatory.

It wasn't all cake, of course. We stuffed ourselves with seafood :)

We also stuffed ourselves with seafood 🙂 This cataplana (a traditional seafood stew) was meant to serve two, but would probably have fed six strapping sailors.

Not so sure about the entertainment...

Some questionable local entertainment… would a visitor from northern Europe really take their kid to watch a terrified animal having spears rammed into its back?

At least the dogs know to take it easy in this town!

…but the dogs sure know to take it easy in this town!

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com