I am straddling the overwhelming midpoint of a two-week intensive course in Catalan, a 9am to 1pm daily appointment that has finally booted out the jet lag and made way for a Spanish siesta. It is the beginner’s beginning, although I’ve captured some advantage from my roommates’ Catalan conversations. (And they thought I couldn’t understand!) It is a point when you feel like you’re learning at an incredible rate, until you realize you can only communicate in numbers, seasons, and the weather channel. I can provide stalkers with all the information they could ever need (my name, where I’m from, where I live) or, alternatively, tell the umbrella-holding celebrity that it is, in fact, raining.
Perhaps my perspective on this skills set is unfair; it is most certainly influenced by the course I’m currently taking in content-language integrated learning. CLIL, like bilingual or immersion education, uses language as a means to an end, i.e., teaching history in Spanish rather than Spanish itself. Over the course of studying the Spanish Civil War, for example, there will be plenty of opportunities to observe, learn, and use the past tense—without dieting students on grammar exercises alone. But here I am conjugating “to be” in Catalan, with which I can say an impressive amount of things:
Em dic Colleen.
My name is Colleen.
Sóc dels Estats Units.
I’m from the United States.
El meu pare es diu L i la meva mare es diu C.
My dad’s name is L and my mom’s is C.
Tinc dues germanas. Es diuen M i H.
I have two sisters. Their names are M and H.
Tinc un gos també.
I have a dog too.
Estic estudiant a la Universitat de Barcelona.
I’m studying at the UB.
Tinc dues campanyas de pis molt macas.
I have two really nice roommates. (By far Anna and Luz’s favorite phrase.)
Besides the new Catalan intensive, which I am taking free of charge with other foreign students thanks to the Catalan regional government, I started another course this week. It too is a cross-cultural experience, though of a more sweaty sort: Colleen meets Bollywood, dance of India. I realized how much I missed dance classes and looked up something new. Unfortunately, with masters classes at night, very few fit my schedule, and this one is in a faraway neighborhood. But for one night, I got to dance with bangles on my ankles, following the bird-hands and circle-hips and bare feet of an adorable little Indian woman. I hope to find another class closer!
And last new experience: I finally made it out of Barcelona for a cultural excursion down the coast to Tarragona. It took us an hour and a half to get there by train on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and not long at all to realize why the Romans picked it as a winter resort. The seaside setting is calm, the amphitheater and ancient city walls give it character, and the play of light in the airy colorful streets reminded me of a cool summer bath. We followed the walls, learned about the city’s role as Rome’s principle stronghold in first-century Spain, had coffee in a plaza as a rag-tag marching band drummed by, and walked along the cold sunset beach. It was, literally, a breath of fresh air.