Sunday, January 31, 2016

(Not such a) Happy Birthday... The Things they Say (14).

'Happy birthday to you,
squashed tomatoes and stew...'

How many of you can complete the above without resorting to google? (I'm having trouble myself.) It's a version I remember singing (with great gusto) at numerous birthday parties when I was about seven or eight. I recall it was ever so slightly 'naughty', so it was usually accompanied by stifled giggles behind cupped hands.

We're 'celebrating' Pablo's birthday this afternoon when I spot the tell-tale signs. María and Paula are pink with mirth and shaking like my last washing machine before it was 'retired'. Pablo and his chosen few are distributing the cake (a delightfully easy-to-cut chocolate sponge, I'm relieved to report) so I sidle down to the pink ladies to investigate.

'What's so funny?' I ask, without lacing it with the usual venom that this particular phrase is wont to attract. The spin-cycle goes into overdrive.

'María, he seeng- he seeng-' and that's as far as we get, as Paula's giggling destroys all hope of intelligible conversation. 

'I think you were singing some funny words,' I say, smiling conspiratorily, and the guilty looks on their faces confirm my best hopes. Baxck in the 1970s I'd have described this pair as little scamps. Great word, scamps. It seems to have gone out of use in recent years, replaced by the much less sympathetic 'troublesome', 'unruly' or 'ADHD'.  But I don't want them to think that I'm annoyed. Actually, I'm quite intrigued to know what they were singing, but I know I'll never find out if they think I'm angry. What is the Spanish for 'squashed tomatoes', anyway?

I find these little similarities between life in the UK and life on Mars rather interesting. Valerie arrived late the other day and I commented, 'Better late than never,' for no other reason than to see who might understand. Immediately a dozen pairs of eyes brightened and Miguel proudly told me that Spaniards say, 'Más vale tarde que nunca,' which amounts to pretty much the same thing. Whenever I discover one of these shared expressions, I always wonder whether it's just a happy coincidence; or whether one language (probably English) has stolen it from the other. Or maybe they've both stolen it: I'm reliably informed that pretty much exactly the same phrase exists in French and even Greek. 

Anyway, my patience is rewarded when the pink ladies reappear at my desk as I give the order to abandon ship for the day. María has a scrap of scrap paper in her hand.

'We seeng thees-' she manages to say before the two of them tumble out to the cloakroom screaming with pent-up hilarity. I smooth the slightly damp and very crumpled sheet out on my desk. It appears to be some 'lyrics'.

Before I tell you what it says, I need to explain that (by some happy coincidence... or some underhand copying) the birthday song in Spain has exactly the same tune as the one we use in the UK. The (official) Spanish words are no more complicated or inventive than the (official) English version.

'Cumpleaños feliz, cumpleaños feliz, te deseamos todos, cumpleaños feliz,' which translates into 'Happy Birthday, happy birthday, we all wish you, happy birthday'.

Bit dull, you have to agree. So, no surprises to discover that Spanish children have resorted to rewriting a more 'entertaining' version. I examine my damp scrap...

'Cumpleaños feliz, tocate la nariz, y si no te la tocas, no seras tan feliz.' Obviously not trusting my prowess in Español very far, the girls have kindly included an English translation, in case I really am as daft as I often pretend to be. 'Happy birthday, touch your nose, and if you don't touch it, you will not be so happy.' Hmmm. Not exactly vintage Morcambe and Wise standard, but they're only eight. And there's more...

On the reverse side there's another couple of verses, these ones partly scrawled out, as if they've decided, late in the day, that they really were too risque, even for me (the life of the party).

'Cumpleaños fatal, que te lo pases muy mal, que te atropelle un tranvía, y feliz funeral.
Los regalos pa mi, los papeles pa ti, yo te invito al cine y tu pagas por mi.'

This time, however, my Spanish tutors have failed to include a translation, so I DIY it.

'Deadly birthday, we hope it's very bad, that you're run over by a tram, and a happy funeral.
The presents for me, the (wrapping) paper for you, I invite you to the cinema and you pay for me!'

It brings a smile to my lips. I'm quite impressed. Bit more inventive than 'squashed tomatoes and stew', I think to myself.

And then I hear squeals of sniggering, and the receding scuttling of small shoes on tiles, and the missing lines suddenly come back to me. 

'Happy birthday to you,
squashed tomatoes and stew,
Bread and butter in the gutter,
Happy birthday to you.'

I think that's a win for the Spanish, don't you? 

Little scamps!

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For a free sample chapter, click HERE.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Veggie Valencia (No.1).

Linda's a vegetarian, and Spain can't boast to be the best place in the world to eat out if you're not a meat (or fish) eater. But it's not the worst...
We were skiing in France a few years ago, staying at a mid-range hotel. The evening meal arrived: Meat and two veg. Linda explained that she had advised the hotel about her dietary requirements and had been told it wouldn't be a problem. So the meal was taken back... only to return within 60 seconds with the meat missing from the plate. So, two veg and a tell-tale scrape of gravy for dins. (I have to report, the meat wasn't actually up to much. Reminded me of the Fawlty Towers scene, two diners (not) complaining about the quality of the meat, 'Oh, there's a nice bit, see?')
Then there was that time we were in Eastbourne for the tennis, staying at a 'traditional' B'n'B. Breakfast time. 
Proprietor (Tall man, military bearing, reminded me a bit of Basil): 'Full English breakfast for you two?'
Linda: 'No, I'm a vegetarian.'
Proprietor (with no hint of irony, sarcasm or any other 'traditional' signs of British humour): 'Oh, what a shame...'
I'm not making this up. If I could, I'd surely be writing for the BBC myself!
So, back in España, we're on the look-out for vegetarian fayre and tonight we're in the city of Valencia at Copenhagen, Cocina Vegetariana.

The menu is completely vegetarian, and a pretty full one at that. You can view it in its entirety (and in English) at their website, along with map and contact details:

We arrived just before 9pm on a Friday night and were offered the only table available (which was reserved by others for 10pm). So we ordered quickly: Patatas bravas; wild mushroom and toasted hazelnut croquettas; gorgonzola, nut and fig croquettas; hummus with arabic bread; pistacho, advocado and strawberry salad; and some mini veggie burgers. 
These were all from the 'tapas' and 'primeros' parts of the menu, but if you have more time than we had, there's also a pretty full selection of 'segundas' plus 'postres' and even three dishes for the niños (quorn nuggets, mini veggie burgers or veggie sausages; all with chips, salad and ketchup!)
Having waded through the food pages, it was a surprise to find that the wine and beer sections were even longer, with a very good selection of Valencian 'artesana' beers and wines outnumbering the 'international' offerings.
Our tapas arrived and were very generous in size; it didn't take us too long to realise that we'd over-ordered by a couple of dishes. The salad was especially monumental.
I guess what all vegetarians will want to know is would we recommend the place. Well, all our dishes were empty by 9:55, so it's a yes from Linda (the vegetarian) and a yes from me (the hanger-on). As you can see from the menu there's a huge variety of food on offer, and we were very impressed by the quality (and the quantity!)
So, our verdict? We'll certainly go again, but next time with a reservation. That way we'll be able to explore beyond the tapas and primeros parts of the menu.

If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Things They Say (13). The Rain in Spain...

It's raining this morning in (not always) sunny Spain. So I'm eager to skew the registration conversation around to a little chat about the weather, mainly to see if any of my charges will remember 'raining cats and dogs' which we mentioned last week.
'Look at this weather!' I offer as temptation. Who will bite?
Paula shakes her head sadly. 'We no have de patio,' she laments loudly.
'Hands up, please,' I coax in best Blue Peter manner, a level of enthusiasm not easy to achieve on a wet Monday morning. 'And it's not patio, is it?'
Paula grimaces as she realises her error and searches for the English. She's an enthusiastic little girl, hates it when she can't remember something we've 'done'.
I've got a forest of waving hands. 'Nacho.'
'Playground!' he snaps, preening proudly.
'Oooh! Nearly!' I commiserate, my best 'Rooney hits the bar at the Stretford End' sort of response. He joins Paula in the desperate-grimace club.
Maya has her hand up so high she's threatening to rip the seams of her shirt. I hope it's not the toilet she wants, so I ask her next.
'Playstation!' she gasps, rather obliquely. I suppress a guffaw although it's not easy, and the lack of any response from the rest of the class only adds to the latent humour. 
'Nearly...' is the only response I feel able to offer.
I begin to wonder if I'm ever going to get back to my 'cats and dogs' conversation, but Max saves the morning by telling all that we're going to call patio 'playtime' now that we're big juniors.
'So, back to the weather in the playground,' I twist, almost seamlessly. 'What's happening today?'
Paula is back in contention with a look of certainty on her face and her hand up in the air. I reward her with the floor. 'Ees- ees-,' she starts, unpromisingly. 'Ees- ees- lluve!'
'But in English?' I coax.
Lots of hands, they must get it now. I pick María, bright as a button, confident smile on her face.
'It's raining!' she announces, like she's Michael Fish. A perfect translation of Paula's effort, but not quite what I'm looking for...
'Yes, but don't you remember we talked last week about the funny thing that English people say when it's raining a lot...? What do we say is falling out of the clouds?'
A rainforest of hands now; well, at least a dozen. I choose Pablo, although he doesn't look so sure...
'Ees water?' he says.
'Ees raining the animals!' he gasps, like he's been underwater for the last 30 seconds.
'Yes! But which ones?'
Now, finally, I have them all. Hands waving, seams stretching, brains buzzing. 'Marta!'
The horses and the sheeps?' she asks, like she thinks it's a guessing game I'm playing. I wonder if I should take a trip down the blind alley which is the correct plural of sheep but I decide to leave that to year six.
'No, I told you last week!' (I can't remember why; it wasn't even raining last week.) 'Alex?'
'Ees raining the dogs and the cats!' he announces triumphantly, to groans of disappointment from the majority who feel beaten by a last-gasp penalty.
I know I'm going to have to correct this. I can't have them going home and telling abuelito (little granny) that Mr. D. taught them this hilarious bit of English eccentricity. What if abuelito speaks enough English to make me look a tonto (fool)?
But Carmen might be just about to do it for me. She's the only one with her hand still up, and she looks pretty annoyed. 'What's the matter, Carmen?'
Carmen takes a deep breath, folds her arms crossly, and lets rip. 'You say when ees raining de dogs and de cats, that mean ees raining mucho, mucho, MUCHO! But no ees raining mucho, mucho, MUCHO now. Only ees chispeando!'
There's a bit of grumpy nodding from one or two others who might have remembered this detail, without also managing to recall the phrase in question. Mercifully I know that chispeando, in this context, means 'spitting'. Sadly, it's taken so long to get to this point that the downpour has abated somewhat and, to give Carmen her due, describing it as raining cats, dogs or any other sort of animal (beyond maybe a few ants), is now pushing it a bit. I also now have a whole literacy hour of explanations to make. 
Should I start with why it has to be 'cats and dogs' and not the other way around? Or maybe I should point out (again) that we don't need 'the' (or even 'de') in front of said dogs, cats, horses and sheep (not sheeps)?

I look at my watch. Time for maths, maybe?

If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Correfoc: Run with Fire.

There are few more exciting experiences in Spain than a Correfoc. It's a Valenciano word which loosely translates as, 'run with fire'. And there's not much more to say except, 'Don't wear your best coat!'

Snaps and video from Vila-Real, a sedate little town. Well... usually.

Welcome to Vila-Real.

I call this 'the umbrella'. Who are these crazy people?!

More rain predicted...
Of course, for an event such as this, photos don't really catch the flavour. The excitement.

Or the terror! So here are a few videos I risked my shirt and my camera to grabar. (That's Spanish for 'record'. Neat, eh?)


If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Babel Magazine: Meet the Professionals.

I was recently interviewed by 'Babel, The Language Magazine' for their 'Meet the Professionals' feature. It's a summary of the most important things I've learned about teaching immersion English over the past nine years here in Spain. Here's a link:

Babel Magazine: Meet the Professionals, May 2015.

N.B., use Ctrl and + to zoom in if the text is too small. 

If you're interested in language(s), then Babel really is a great read. It has a wide range of articles every issue, not only for 'specialists' but also for those of us with a more general interest. Recent articles have covered British and American English; How new technology is changing language learning; Bringing up multilingual children; and Foreign words which have no direct English translation.
My favourite word from the last article was 'iktsuarpok', a word used by Inuits which expresses 'the act of repeatedly going outside to check if someone is coming.'
I was interested to discover with my class recently that the English verb 'nod' doesn't seem to have a direct translation in Spanish. Most dictionaries suggest something like 'saludar con la cabeza', but we couldn't find a Spanish verb which describes the act. The children suggested we should 'invent' a new Spanish verb, nodear.
Let's see if it catches on... 

If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Things They Say (12). Una Paloma Blanca.

Monday morning registration conversation. I usually ask them about what they've done over the weekend. The most common reply is to have had paella at grannie's house (or 'the house of mi abuela,' as they stubbornly continue to call it). But Alma breaks the train of paella.
I go to cinema,” she tells me.
I went to the cinema,” I correct.
And me as well,” she chirps excitedly at how strange the world is.
I quickly calculate which error I should correct. Should I tell her to say, 'Me too,' rather than, 'and me as well'? Should I disabuse her of the notion that I also went to the cinema? Or should I return to the original issue and point out that she should say, 'went' instead of 'go'?
Me too,” I say, for no particular educational reason.
I say eet!” she protests indignantly.
Which film did you see?” I ask, seamlessly changing the subject and avoiding a black-hole of confusion in the process. I hope you can see how a few years of experience here has resulted in a much more professional performance by yours truly.
Ees Gnomeo and Juliet,” she says proudly.
Romeo,” I correct, rolling my 'R' to emphasise the mistake. “Rrrrro-meo and Juliet.”
No, ees Gno-meo,” Alma insists as I fail to stifle a smile at the image of Juliet being serenaded by a garden gnome in a green jacket and red, felt, pointed hat.
It's Rrrrro-meo,” I repeat. “It's an English play, by Shakespeare.” I guess I do say this a bit pompously, as if the fact of Shakespeare and I sharing nationality somehow wins the argument. (Bolstered somewhat by the issue of me being a teacher and considerably taller than Alma.) But she sticks to her Gnomeo, and even attracts some supporters.
Yes, I see eet,” Alfonso says, with a seriousness that is not really appropriate. “Ees Gnomeo, he has hat like thees.” He raises his arms and joins them in a peak above his head.
I laugh an automatic, full-bellied guffaw at the image of 'Gnomeo' under Juliet's balcony wearing a red pointed hat. Although, if I'm honest, it's the sight of Alfonso looking soooooooooo serious while doing his pointy-hat gnome impersonation which makes me lose it. Alfonso looks seriously offended and there's a lot of nodding and grumbling dissent like I've told them that their parents have thrown all their toys in the bin.
I slap on the internet. Maybe, just maybe...
Well, how was I to know that some crazy film-makers had deemed it a good idea to make a film about a love-struck gnome? I make a suitably humble apology to Alma (and the smiling Alfonso) and try changing the subject again, as quickly as I can.
Did you eat popcorn?” I ask, wondering if her English vocabulary has spread to this particular delicacy.
I go weeth my brother,” she replies.
No, popcorn,” I repeat. “Did you eat popcorn?”
What ees?” she asks, shaking her head.
I decide to show-off my Spanish and maybe rescue a bit of my reputation for knowing stuff that a teacher should know. “Palomas,” I say with a flourish. “I always eat palomas when I go to the cinema.”
There is a strange silence. Alma moves a half-step away from me. One or two children exchange worried looks. I know they have popcorn in Spain, I've seen great bucketfuls of the stuff, although my claim to eat it is a lie solely designed to give the conversation a bit of a boost. It seems to have killed it off.
You eat palomas?” Luís says finally, with a gravity which you'd expect to be reserved for conversations about the consumption of live hamsters or even children.
I fish out my phone and pop paloma into the Spanish-English translator thingy. It tells me that a paloma is a pigeon, or a dove. Well, I knew that, 'Una paloma blanca' and all that. So what was I thinking of?
You know!” I plead, pathetically. “You get a big box and it's all white and you eat it like this...” I do a mime of popping piece after piece of popcorn into my mouth while transfixed by Juliet dating a two-foot tall gnome on-screen.
Palo-mi-tas!” they yell in (relieved) unison. Of course! Palomitas. The 'ita' suffix changing something to a smaller version of itself. A bit like we add 'ie' to make birdie or doggie (or even doggy-woggie). Palomitas. Small doves. (And baby pigeons, probably. Or maybe not.)
It makes me laugh. Then it makes me really laugh, as I picture Alma, sitting in the cinema, taking a huge bite out of a full-sized pigeon, then spitting feathers all over her brother. She's a sweet little girl, so just the thought makes me laugh even harder. The children are enjoying the mistake of a teacher as only children can.
Although I'm left to wonder what disjointed version of this morning's registration conversation will be relayed over the dinner table this evening.
Hope no-one's having pigeon for tea!

If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fallas 2015, Correfoc: Run with fire!

Some of the most exciting parts of Valencia's Fallas fiesta are the 'Nit de foc' (Night of Fire) and 'Correfoc' (Run with fire) events. These shots and videos are from Burriana's Correfoc (in the north of the Valencian communidad).

If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.