The Importance of Practicing Your Acquired Languages

I put an advertisement looking for a Spanish-speaker. I haven’t spoken it in 6 months and I have an itch I cannot scratch on my tongue. After a few days, a Chilean replied and she said we could go out for coffee.

Gabi: Have you been to the salons here? It’s so expensive! Even for waxing…

Me: You went there to wax your feet?

Gabi: What do you think I am? Frodo?

Darn it! That’s why language practice is important.

My First Job

My first job was with DHL. I lasted about a year. The department was Service Desk Analyst or some people might refer as The Customer Service.

I actually was quite fond of my job. I had the best colleagues, my boss was flexible, the food was nice and I never complain about the money.

I had everything!

I took the job because it’s the only way I could speak Spanish to someone. I had my beloved colleagues. They’re a mix bunch. Some are from Philippines, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, all over South and Central America. At that time I even dreamed in Spanish and I love that I got the opportunity for growth and improvement at the tips of my tongue every single day.

You might not be aware but it took real determination to swim against the current. I could have let it slipped away. It would not cost me anything. All I did was to forget to practice and the weight of the problem will wash away.

But I didn’t and it kills me when I cannot be better.

As for now, I can’t because I resigned. I had the simplest reason why. I can’t stand 500 calls per day. I can’t stand repeating the same spiel every single time. I don’t think the customers are always right. They’re not and they’re dumb and I don’t care if their parcel was late for 2 hours.

The job is not for me. I struggled to be nice over and over again. I could be nice on purpose, you see. It’s just that I hate repeating things. I hate routines.

Later, it got to me pretty bad. I jumped at the ringing of my own phone. I had nightmares of emergency calls about packages lost at the sea. I said ‘Thank you for calling DHL Helpdesk‘ to my mother. I crave for sunlight because of the time difference. Trust me, you are not yourself when you don’t get enough sleep at night.

Still I fight. I want to be able to speak this language so bad but it’s so damn hard.

I was born in Malaysia. My mother tongue is Malay. Everyone in my family speaks Malay. I can easily manage speaking English because it’s everywhere but Spanish…why do I have to try so hard to speak a language where no one I know would use it for communication? Not only that, none of my friends were interested in learning or perfecting a foreign language skills that they have no need for. Also, almost 99.9% jobs in Malaysia will not require me to speak Spanish.

Why bother?

¿Por qué? ¿Por qué? ¿Por qué?

Why did I spend countless nights reading out loud so that my tongue would be familiar with the rolling of the R and the lisp of my C and Z? Why do I download books and listen to Spanish clips on Youtube? Why do I even bother reading Spanish news online?

It’s weird to say this but Spanish keeps my sanity, teaches me more about life and how to untangle my feelings.

Like I have this another hidden identity emerging just by switching my grammar and vocabulary.

And I love this Spanish me. You might not realize it if you’re born speaking Spanish or married to a Spanish speaker or staying in a place where everyone around you speaks Spanish (I am so jealous of you!) but I can only count on my own resources and my unwavering (*scoff*) discipline.

I know it’s not enough but I try and if I can’t today then tomorrow and the days after that. I can only hope that there will come another time that my tongue will be the one who saves me.

Wanderlusting Europe

In summer 2005, I got a scholarship to study Spanish Language and Culture but I end up touring Europe.

Best time of my life.


Photo: Madrid – Granada bus ticket

I had always dreamed of traveling around the world and had stole pictures of Europe from the library but nothing could prepared me for the reality.

There was no word for it. I was overwhelmed by the smell, sights and sound. I can’t even find a better word than happy. I don’t know if ‘blessed’ fit the profile but I knew ‘fulfilled’ was some part of it.


Photo: Bus ticket from Barcelona – Paris (You can get a Euroline pass to 51 countries from 185 Euros for 15 days. See Eurolines website for more.)

It was a scary experience too. I did not know anyone and that was my first trip overseas but I came too far to say ‘maybe next time.’

It was not a known fact that a single Malaysian Malay/English/Spanish/un-petit-peu-de-French speaking girl would travel alone in unknown territory. I was immediately dubbed ‘crazy’ by many peers.


Photo: Apartment rent receipt from a luxurious unit across the Prague Florenc Bus Station.

I enjoyed Prague the most, of all the countries that I have been. There was a different vibe; mysterious and beckoning on the pebbled streets.


I was robbed by a group of gypsies in Rome but I never felt that was a bad day. I met a good Samaritan, slipped in a deaf tour with him because he knew a friend who knew someone who could let us in for free and ate the most glorious food with ample Italian kisses.

I don’t know any day more perfect than that one.


Photo: Ticket from London – Brussels

Funny thing about London was that it was a city of contradiction. Coming from a third world country and a country being colonized by the British Empire, everyone was fed different facts about England and my first impression did not meet any of it.

One thing that didn’t change is that the Englishmen are always the gentlemen.

I told a fellow English passenger in the bus that a Portuguese sat close-by harassed me. In seconds, it was chaos. The fight lasted for about 15 minutes and both broke their nose but later apologized.


Photo: Frankfurt – Rome

I was not particularly into Frankfurt. The people scared me. I need some time to adjust to the normal volume pitch of the locals. I don’t find them very friendly when they’re yelling on top of their lungs but it’s the norm. Surprisingly, I later found out that they made the best of friends when you earn their trust.


To be honest I only understood the second last line 🙂


Photo: Marseilles – Barcelona

My surprise destination was Marseilles. I never planned to go there but it was kind of an accident that left me no choice.

I could never thank the accident enough. Marseilles is the epitome of vintage, free, wandering soul. The strong wind, the old port, the clear turquoise water, the lines of parked yachts, the fresh seafood, the freckles of the waving children, flapping skirts of old ladies, gleaming teeth of the old men. I will never forget the first time I got the glimpse of the famous port. I never recovered that piece of my heart left in Marseilles.


Photo: Metro map of Barcelona

I have been to Barcelona more than 3 times but I have this feeling that Barcelona did not like me very much. There was always something that made my stay unbearable. Be it a rude remark from a local that I took seriously, unsympathetic friend that preferred to let me sleep at the airport for 2 days than offer any sort of refuge or being ignored when asked for help.

I don’t know why all these happen just when I arrived in Barcelona and sincerely hoped to God that every single time it would be different. It never did.


Photo: Spanish grammar notes

I am lucky enough to be able to reach out for my dreams just because I was determined to learn a foreign tongue. Although I did learn French for 4 years in secondary school, the foundation made me decide to try Spanish and there lies my road to the world.

I am hoping for a new adventure, a new luck and a new place to tread this year. Maybe this time it would truly happen.

And you, yes, YOU. what are you waiting for? If not now, then when?

Happy wandering, wanderfolks!

Language Exchange

The only requirement that you need to join the Language Exchange Site is your ability to listen and speak in English and Spanish.

I can do that!

I may not speak like a native but this is an opportunity to truly listen to a person from this place, his pronunciation, the exclamation phrases that he uses, the themes, his life events summed up, the way he sees his country and mine, his interests, all things truly Spanish.

This site is genius.

So like an overanxious student, I registered online. After all I just need to go out with one person at a time for several hours. If I’m lucky he’d be paying for my lunch, (I don’t really put high hopes on that) I won’t meet this person again and if he’s really nice we can be pen-friend. Forever.

In short, I have nothing to lose.

The thing about Spaniards is that they are very curious. So when you put Malay female looking for a language exchange friend, the reply would came in dozens since they already have tonnes of questions in tow.

How did you learn to speak Spanish? How long did you take to be fluent in our language? Is it difficult? How do you say I love you in Malay? How’s the weather in Malaysia? What are you doing here? What do you eat in Malaysia? Where do you live here? Are you currently employed? Do you like Spain? Which place do you prefer? How did you learn English?

And we haven’t met yet.

My first time going out was with Ramon. He’s originally from Madrid. His English was quite good in writing. He’s a lawyer by profession so I was quite impressed when he showed up with his complete office suit.

Just got back from the court.

I see.

We talked for 4 hours non-stop. We took turn talking and listening and he turned out to be excellent at both fields. We switched English and Spanish every half an hour. He had trouble at first but it gets better after 1.5 hours. We took the corner table, asked for our drinks and food and catch up the things that we’d like to know.

From my personal opinion, he is the kind of language exchange partner that I dreamed off. He’s 38, the one and only child from a family of supreme intelligence. He basically lived in a library because both of his parents are historians and both working in a university nearby.

When I found out about this, I straightaway asked about the Civil War and Francisco Franco (I found out that Spaniards are not allowed to talk about this in public) I never learn this in school because this is not our compulsory syllabus. We were never taught of Spanish Civil Wars or Franco’s dictatorship. I found this out by myself but I don’t think I can carry a good conversation if anyone I knew by chance mentioned it. I didn’t get why it happened.

There was a long pause.

When he started to explain I wish that he would never stop. He is a walking encyclopedia! He told me secrets that I would never understand by reading alone. The Civil War, European economics, Spanish mentality, customs, imperialism in the New World, the effects towards the monarchy in Spain, the things I only wish to know in my dreams.

He broke the history down bit by bit, like a talented teacher and everything seemed so easy.

This is what I’m talking about!

I also have great difficulty trying to explain because I learned and read many terms in English or Malay and he in Spanish so we had a lot of terms which we need to elaborate much further.

But we didn’t give up.

When the sky is dark, we both had to return home (with great headaches of too much information loading in such a short time) and he continue sending me more books about the events that I wish to know.

I can’t thank him enough for shedding a bright light on the mentioned topics.

The only fact that I don’t like is that I didn’t have a lot of time meeting Spanish gentleman (why in the World would a meet a girl?) because I was constantly traveling so I only had time for 2 random meetings.

I stayed for about 2 weeks in my old apartment in Cea Bermudez, near Metro Las Islas Filipinas and the year was 2008. The first time I was in Madrid was 2005 and I stayed at the same place for 3 months.

My housemates changed like the season. This time I have an adorable housemate. His name is David. He’s 20, fresh from La Coruña. That summer I was lucky to meet very good conversationist, intelligent, friendly and good looking men.

I must have been a really nice girl.

Anyway, David is staying in Madrid because he had to register for a summer camp and this camp is only organized for students who managed to accomplish full mark in all subjects.

So he is an extremely intelligent good looking young man.

Like a good big sister (he’s the only child in the family) I always accompanied him during dinner. He always had a late dinner, about 9 PM and I was almost always out doing something or meeting someone during the day. I know that he doesn’t mind eating alone but I sat there nonetheless.

And we talked. We always stopped at midnight.

He is the kind of person that likes to know everything about anything. He would go to the nearest library and borrow books in random subjects, even though while on vacation with family. He can even go to the beach with piles of books and starts reading.

He would make any mother proud.

Oh, by the way he speaks gallego (a mix of Spanish and Portuguese spoken in Galicia) and French (his mother is French.)

How I wish I could do the same!

Like any other teenager, he asked a lot of questions, especially about my country and religion. He seemed to know a lot about Malaysia and has a very strong opinion on certain subjects. You need to argue restlessly and find a good evidence to throw him off his grid.

It helps being stubborn sometimes.

I found that our conversation is stimulating and intriguing. He helped me with a lot of new vocabulary and he now knows the difference between being a Malay and Malaysians (most foreigners still have no idea what is the difference between the two.)

I will always remember him as my smart Spanish baby brother.

My last meeting was with Ildefonso. I managed to call him because he sounded like a nice person on the mail and I don’t think it would be nice to leave Madrid without meeting another good soul (I believe in the goodness of other people.) It was my last day in Madrid and my last effort. I was supposed to fly from Madrid to Edinburgh the next morning at 6.20 AM. To avoid missing the flight or early traffic I decided that I should sleep at Barajas airport after taking the last train at 12 AM the same day.

Ilde said he can’t meet me as he’s moving to another apartment.

Oh, I said it’s O.K. I just don’t want to leave Madrid without meeting a language exchange partner that I contacted online. If you’re busy then I’ll just leave tonight to Scotland.

Wait, he said. Let’s meet now.


Yes, tell me where are you and I’ll find you.

That’s Ilde and he’s one Southern gentleman that any girl would want to meet. He’s 29 and from Jaén. I knew immediately that he’s from Andalucía when he first speak.

My heartbeat grew faster by the minute. Gosh, he sounds darn sexy!

Focus. I’m here for the language exchange thingy.

I can’t tell you how I loved his accent. During the first half an hour I gawked and listened and gawked some more.

I am in love with whatever things that he said. Good or bad.

When I finally got my bearings right, we spoke for 6 hours. He’s an agriculture engineer.

Wow. What’s that?

He had to explain 3 times. My mind doesn’t get it. He was worried that he explained it incorrectly but it was me who suddenly doesn’t understand a word of English.

We take turn speaking and listening in both languages each 10 minutes. The first session he said his head can’t tolerate the pressure. It’s exploding! Common exaggeration, I know. It has been too long since the last time he used English to explain something.

He is a great listener too and he really listened to me. I know this seemed like an easy task but listening is not the same as hearing. Listening requires you to focus, understand, emphasize the point by relating it to your current knowledge preferably with the same experience or field and remembering it, be it short or long term (I know men tend to forgot so I usually turn a blind eye if they repeat a story or a joke) and he nailed it or I admit that he made me believed that he really listened to me and I in turn listened to him.

What else I can do with such beautiful accent? I’m complete.

4 hours at a café and he suggested that we should go for a walk in the park.

I know just the place!


Have you been to El Parque del Buen Retiro?

I’ve heard of it. Is it far? Can we walk there?

No! It’s 12 Metro stations to the north and we had to change at the Green Line. Absolutely no walking there!

Then, shall we go?

I have been dreaming to go to the park but I was so scared since my last experience there. I can’t walk alone in the park so Ilde was the perfect company. It’s about 10 PM. I have another 2 hours before the last train to the airport.

I can do this. I can pack in 5 minutes and run like a mad cow chasing a mad man in tights with a red cape. In time I’ll enjoy the park in the shadows bathed in fluorescent lights.

He told me about his family. He’s the youngest of three. His favorite place in Madrid, his ambition, his friends, his cousins, his new apartment, his job, his colleagues, his boss, his pets, in summary, his life.

So this is the essence of a life in Spain. The thing that this soul had lived so far. A story. I have learned a lot from him. We both go to school but the education system of both countries have different ways of making us understand, we experienced different ways of expressing life but overall it’s the same.

Life is a mystery and it’s up to us to find the answers.

Most memorable thing he did was ignoring a phone call from his cousin (In Spain they don’t text.) I told him to pick it up but he said no, it will take a long time since it’s from her, most probably asking about the moving. He’ll call her later because we don’t have much time to spend.

That is the sweetest thing a man could do to a woman (though as a random stranger I probably don’t deserve it but I feel appreciated.)

We were lying on our backs on the grass and observing the stars and everything was perfect for me. I told him about the constellations that I knew and how to read them and we talked until midnight. No one dared to bother us.

I was happy and I had the best day in Madrid. I hope he was happy too. My last chapter in Madrid was closed with a good ending.

He sent me home. He wished me luck on my future traveling.

Changing my mood from a happy girl to mad cow, I started running and never looked back.

And Edinburgh was the gift I was waiting for.

I was in total bliss for about a month more and then the nightmare took over.

And it’s still not ending.