Thursday, 14 January 2016

10,000 Hours

That's how long science says it takes to master a new skill. Whether it's cordon bleu cooking, playing a musical instrument, writing computer code or learning a language, research says you need 10,000 hours of practice to really become a Jedi at something. For those of us learning a language, that equates to just over 6 months of immersion in a language, which is probably why we hear that so often quoted as the 'magic number'.

That was my plan in moving to Spain - just being in a place where everyone speaks Spanish 24/7 would help me rack up my hours pretty fast. Since my plan of finding a host family to avoid my French mistake of 'French at school, English when I'm home alone the rest of the time' ultimately proved fruitless (and probably just as well, because I think I would have snapped and done them all in by now), I put aside money to enrol in a zillion extracurriculars. Thanks to my weekly yoga class, not only am I more relaxed, but I know all my body parts in Spanish. Flamenco is not only heaps of fun, but I can intimately describe my foot in Spanish as well as different ways of moving my body. My monthly book club has so far not given me a lot except for better knowledge of Spanish literature, and an appreciation for the amount of noise generated when six people all speak at once. That happens at last three times per meeting.

These have all proved to be great ways to make friends, too. My flamenco class all went out for drinks after class some weeks back and, despite my best intentions, I rolled home three hours later stuffed full of every gluten-free vegetarian tapas they could think of (they were tasty, too). Earlier this week I dropped into the library to collect the lastest novel for my book club, ran into Ana and Berna, two older ladies who think the token Australian girl is adorable, and wound up having mint tea in a local cafe discussing I really have no idea what.

What's interesting for me is that perhaps my most fruitful interactions and relationships are the ones that shouldn't be bearing fruit at all. Every fortnight or so I see a local masseur for a shiatsu massage - it's 20€ an hour here and in Aus it'll cost you $40 for half that time, so I take it and run. Pako the masseur is a lovely, spiritual, philosophical guy, and he loves a good chat after I've woken up from my deep-sleep massage state. I'm pretty sure after four months of regular appointments we've solved world peace about three times over by now.

The other relationship that's been surprisingly helpful is Rosa. Keeping up the tradition of monthly manicures that I developed with my friends, I've become a regular at a local beauty salon. The things about small businesses like Rosa's here in Baza is that while your appointment might get interrupted occasionally when they go to answer the phone or door, your appointment gets full personal attention. No minions or lackeys here. Rosa herself does my manicures, and because I'm a regular we always end up chatting while she works, about the weather, about school, about my mum coming to visit, about what pattern we'll paint on my nails this week, anything and everything. It's a full hour of one-on-one chatting, which is much easier for me to understand than a multi-person conversation, and I usually get some good vocab out of my conversations with Rosa (daily vocab gets written on the back of the left hand, as Rosa well knows!)

So it's been funny for me sometimes, when I mentally tally up my hours of Spanish interaction for the week and think that yoga + flamenco + book club falls short, to realise that I have to factor in a massage (we chat with the receptionist, too!), or a manicure, or my walks home from yoga with my neighbour and teacher, Miryam, or lunches with colleagues from school...point being, I'm taking in a lot more Spanish than I sometimes think I am!

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