Upon learning that my region spoke a second language, I was looking forward to realizing how much Valencian (valenciano in Spanish and valencià in the native dialect) was utilized in my town. I even did some research on the languages spoken in Spain. In my second week in Ontinyent, I noticed that Valencian was the primary language to communicate in school between the teachers and students. Around town, many of the public announcements for events and gatherings were also in Valencian, without a Spanish translation. Some items that did have a Spanish translation were still referred to by their Valencian term since it was universal to the town. By then, I decided to learn the language by enrolling in weekly classes as a way to integrate myself more.
This year my learning experience is a bit different. I decided not to continue with Valencian in order to explore other goals — some that I hope to be able to reveal soon. I knew that I would come across the language almost daily at work, around town, or with my roommates.
Up to this point, I can share some positives and negatives regarding my Valencian learning experience.
The Positives of My Valencian Learning Experience
Adult Learning Centers
Throughout Spain, there are adult schools that offer classes in art, dance, computer programming, languages, etc. The regional or local government administers these low-cost classes. I found them to be a great resource to introduce myself to the language. The registration fee was low compared to something similar in the States. I paid around 50€. Along with my 20€ textbook, I was enrolled in one year’s worth of classes.
History of Studying Spanish
Because I took upper-level courses in Spanish grammar and linguistics in college, it was easier to understand Valencian. Since both are romance languages, there are common traits like conjugation, gender, and sentence structure, just to name a few.
However, the trait that helped me the most is phonology, or how the sounds of the language are produced. The letters sound quite similar in both languages, resulting in Valencian being more ear-friendly than other languages in deciphering words and sentences.
One of the most important aspects of learning a language is immersion, or using it in practice either by communicating or listening to others. It’s very difficult to experience this in university. Student life presents very few chances to practice a foreign language outside of class, let alone in one of the countries where it is primarily spoken.
That is why, although sounding trivial, living in a small town that historically only spoke Valencian was a great benefit. While it shouldn’t be surprising to hear the elderly speak the language, a surprising number of people my age also mostly spoke to each other in it. I really enjoy sitting back and hearing them converse. Furthermore, a lot of the signages and posters around town are in the Valencian language, which always provides additional words and names to research or lookup.
My worksite provides an opportunity to improve my understanding of the language as well. At school, I can hear the staff members and students chat. I can wander the halls and see the students’ work in a variety of subjects. For example, I’ve seen projects about the parts of the body and book reports, all in Valencian. Sometimes the faculty members receive official documentation or memos that I occasionally read.
The Negatives of My Valencian Learning Experience
While it’s great to have the opportunity to partake in language classes, it’s another to enjoy it. I enjoyed the enthusiasm of my instructor and other students. However, I had moments I wished there I had more tests or quizzes to keep me studious. I didn’t recall opening my textbook aside from classes. Alongside that, registration was open throughout the year. This meant that we had to review old material if a new student entered the class in February.
Other bilingual speakers will understand this situation fairly well. If you meet someone who speaks the same language, the language first spoken often becomes the primary one spoken. It is hard to switch to the other. At school, most of my colleagues do me a courtesy by speaking Spanish while others speak to me in Valencian. Even after asking to speak in Valenciano to continue learning, it is hard for some to remember.
Improving Two languages, Working with a Third
One of the most beautiful yet frustrating parts of learning languages is continuing to improve the ones I can speak fluently versus learning more of the ones that are new to me. This is an ever-present problem when it comes to learning Valencian and improving my Spanish. Should I improve the language I will most likely continue speaking for the rest of my life even though I will have other opportunities to learn it back in the states? Or should I continue to learn the language of the culture I have attempted to integrate myself into during the past 12 months, fully aware that opportunities to utilize it will be minimal? Also notable is the fact that everyone speaks Spanish.
Spanish is always available for me to use when I’m feeling lazy or need to speak with someone confidently. An example of the former is in the morning when I have to buy breakfast. I have minimal mental capacity to speak Valenciano to the cashier to even order a tomato patsy.
In addition, my job requires me to speak English throughout the day. Others in my position may feel uncomfortable not being able to practice their Spanish in the classroom. However, I placed the restriction on myself for the better of the students. Some students noticed my reluctance to speak Spanish as a teacher. They tried to speak more English with me as a result. I don’t get to practice the other languages, and my working relationship with some of my private students have gotten to the point where speaking in Spanish feels inappropriate.
At the end of the day, Valencian is not the dominant language of the region. I’ve met people whose parents’ spoke the language but decided against speaking it with their children. There are also towns that I’ve traveled to where Valenciano isn’t spoken at all nor was it historically. This includes the capital city, where government initiatives to raise the literacy of the language have affected the signages and public service announcements. Despite their efforts, it’s rare to hear Valencian spoken at all. The language is reserved for the small villages and towns, which is bittersweet to discover since that is where its charm lies. Nonetheless, it is still sour since it doesn’t extend much further than the small municipalities.
The Positives and Negatives in My Valencian Learning Experience
Overall, I am quite happy with my level of Valencian. I would have loved to have a B1 certification (an internationally recognized language certification) as I love studying and learning about languages. It’s obtained after taking a test that proves if one has a sufficient level in speaking, reading, writing and listening in the language one wishes to obtain a certification. It can also make it easier to return to Valencia and find work as a translator.
I can still take the exam in the summer. I don’t feel like I have the level to pass either the writing or reading part of the exam, especially because most native speakers warn me the Valencian test is much harder than other languages. This is because the majority of participants take the exam to become teachers, bureaucrats, or government officials. Regardless, I know enough for my everyday life. Whether listening to my colleagues’ talk, reading the different types of pastries at a bakery, or responding in the language if spoken to in Valenciano, I feel confident enough in any way the language presents itself to me.