Learning a language is like learning to dance…with two left feet!
This May i started learning Flamenco at my local Community Centre. Look here’s the evidence; mine and my friend’s new dance shoes and a beer to celebrate the purchase…
I had been deliberating over whether to enrol in an exam preparation course for the DELE B2 but i allowed myself to be convinced (easily) that not only was Flamenco a fraction of the price but it would be a lot more fun AND i would still be practising spanish. I wasn’t 100% sure. I have a tendency to start things and never see them through – i’m beginning to think i need to open a Lost & Found for the roller-blades/boxing gloves etc… from half-started and forgotten hobbies. So when the day of the first class eventually arrived i began with reluctant optimism.
At beginner’s level, the classes consisted of lots of feet-stamping, in time, repeatedly, toe-heel, toe-heel, heel-toe-heel, heel-toe-heel, toe-heel-heel etc… You’d be amazed at how much of a sweat this would build up! And of course…manos. We would stand in a large circle, moving our hands circularly inwards and outwards. The teacher would go round the circle one-by-one correcting our posture. There was very little dancing!!
I soon realised that my goal, to go pro after 8 lessons might have been a little bit ambitious!! Seriously though, it did make me think about the massive gulf that their often is between learner’s expectations of progress and achievable progress. The amount of ‘tecnica’ that we had to cover before we even got to the good stuff, it would have been forgivable to have thought the road too long and given up! (again!) This, made me think about the similarities this process had with my experiences of learning spanish and i’m pretty sure i can’t be the only one who has underestimated the time they think it will take to speak another language fluently.
The reason i didn’t give up though was that the final goal was clearly visible. Nivel III was the class before ours, and seeing as in Spain things have a tendency to run late, we would begin our class by gawping at the skilled accuracy and gracefulness of the ‘cool girls’ (or in this case – the ones who can actually dance) stomping and gliding around the space looking like the real deal.
The metaphor struck me again – what was the difference between myself and these Flamenco Goddesses, any of whom could have been mistaken for being the teacher? Was it that they had an innate ability to feel the passion of ‘el duende’ – the gypsy spirit within? Or was it that they were all Andalusian and therefore learnt these moves like other kids would learn how to ride a bike – their rite of passage? Nope…there was no difference, apart from the fact that they had already put in their hours of feet-stomping and wrist-circling and worked their way up the ladder. Like with learning a language; there are no shortcuts. You can’t cheat your way to the top level (unless of course you are bilingual in which case it doesn’t count). There really is no way around it… You have to know your verb conjugations – drill them again and again…and again…and only when you’ve mastered them is there room for creative interpretation.
Like in Flamenco…i know that the facial expressions and arm/hand and feet co-ordination will come…after more practice. The initial dedication is there; i took a supplementary intensive course in July which ran twice a week and i videoed my teacher and intend to master the steps over the summer (well let’s see). When i asked her about which level i should enrol in next term (take the jump to level 2 or repeat level 1?) she pretty much said it’s up to me how much i have practised. So like with all learning…the teacher can show you the steps but your actual progress is down to you and how often you practise the moves.
So here’s to level 2 and beyond …
or to a pair of dance shoes in the Lost & Found?!