By Cecely Richard-Carvajal
If you were to listen to my grandfather, Ramón, you would think he was the quintessential English gentleman. He speaks with the tones and words of the BBC, which is no surprise as he is self-taught, and self-made and has listened to the BBC faithfully since he came ashore in Liverpool as a Spanish civil war orphan some 70 years ago. What captures me about my grandfather is that hidden by his proper English is his passionate Spanish.
When I turned 20, my grandpa decided my Spanish “would do fine” and he took me to Northern Spain. We met his cousins and childhood friends who still live in the remote village of San Esteban de Prava. This English gentleman I had known my whole life disappeared before my eyes. Ramon became Moncho, not my grandfather, but the little Spanish boy who had been best friend’s with these people so many years before. When my Grandpa speaks English, he lives and breathes England, but when he speaks Spanish, he is a completely different man.
My two favourite things are languages and drama. At first glance, they appear to have very little in common. However, I believe language and drama are very much intertwined. I wouldn’t say my grandfather is untrue to himself in either language. I believe my grandfather has mastered the art of language. He is bilingual and speaks both Spanish and English fluently. He has understood that language is not just a mode of communication, its a character we play.
Every language has a character. It just takes time to find it. When I started learning Russian, my teacher told me I wouldn’t speak Russian until I found my “русская душа”. At first, I didn’t understand – “что такая русская душа?”. I’ve been learning Russian two years, and I’m yet to find my ‘Russian soul’. Before I left for my Year Abroad in Moscow, she told me, when you return I’m sure you will have it! I don’t know if Natasha is right, and if its possible for me to get this innately Russian “душа”. What I do know is that, I won’t have found it until I truly understand the Russian character. I still speak with a thick English accent and my Russian is littered with anglicisms. My time in Russia is an opportunity to research and better understand the ‘character’ of the Russian language.
I think there is no coincidence that my favourite hobbies are learning new languages and acting. In the end, they are one and the same!
Check out our project: The Trobador Theatre Company
Learning doesn’t have to take place in a classroom. English can be fun!