Lost in Translation

V - Espanol

I’m two weeks in to my intermediate Spanish course. So far I have been on time for each lesson, so well done me, it’s after I arrive that it goes downhill.  We’ve been spending a lot of our lessons talking about things that we did in the past to learn how to use the past tense in verbs. That’s all good if there were only one past tense to choose from, but there are two I can describe and another two that I am not sure of yet. That makes FOUR!! Don’t you think that’s just greedy?

I had to get this explanation from the internet (thanks to as I don’t want to give you the wrong information and lead you down the same rabbit hole I’m in.

“What’s past is past, but in Spanish what’s past may be either preterite or imperfect. Unlike English, Spanish has two simple past tenses, known as the preterite (often called the preterit) and the imperfect indicative. (As in English, they are known as simple tenses to distinguish them from verb forms that use an auxiliary verb, such as “has left” in English and ha salido in Spanish.)

Although the English simple past in a sentence such as “he ate” can be conveyed in Spanish using either the preterite (comió) or the imperfect indicative (comía), the two tenses are not interchangeable.”

I know this is true because of the amount of times I’ve managed to get it wrong in class and everyone else has sniggered at me. There are some very smart people in my group, which is not intimidating at all, no, no, really. No.

I’m also fairly certain now that even though the famous languages teacher, Michel Tomas, who up to now has been a bit of a hero in my house, is great for starting to speak a language you shouldn’t rely on him for. He teaches that you make sentences together by translating directly from one language to another, this just isn’t possible.

V Espanol Book

In Spanish, verb tenses are formed by changing the endings of verbs, a process known as conjugation. Present tense, imperfect, preterite, future, conditional, the present perfect, the pluperfect, the past perfect, the preterite perfect, future perfect and the conditional perfect conjugation. So, we should have that all under control by next week.

What I am learning from learning Spanish is how little I understand the English language. I must have missed out on the grammar lessons at my (don’t laugh) Grammar School because I don’t understand the terms, I am literally starting from scratch.

Anyone who has studied Spanish is aware of the troublesome relationship between the pretérito and imperfecto. The imperfecto (yo hablaba) translates to the English imperfect (I was talking) while the pretérito (yo hablé) literally translates to the English simple past (I talked) but can also be translated as the English present perfect (I have talked) or the emphatic past (I did talk). And when a person asks you in Spanish what you did before they will ask you using the present tense. (Example: “Desde cuando vives aqui ?” translates to “From when you live here?”) Confuso? Si. Thanks for asking.  

Of course I have been searching the internet for “easy ways to remember the different Spanish verb tenses”.  That brings up almost a million and a half results, so I guess there’s still some work to be done there. Hang on in there McLeod.


I’ve been trying to cobble together some people who wanted to speak about Catalan and its importance to the Mallorcan culture, but miserably failed to get much together…. I’ll keep trying on this one. But here is some information from Jackie Evans at Calvia Council about lessons.

Hi Vicki
I have just been down to the IMEB office here in the Town Hall . The catalan courses are run by the ESCUELA DE ADULTOS in Magalluf .

The information below has been taken from the calvia website” Click on the “Union Jack” for English and click on IMEB on the tool bar and you get the following text :

The School for Adults office is closed until the 1st September so I cant get any more info . I do know that is is subsidised by the “Conselleria de Edución ” and Calvia Town Hall ……its very reasonably priced.

School for Adults
This educational centre’s aim is to provide permanant education to adults of the municipality. Access is available to all citizens over 18 years of age.

Educational Offers:

Initial teaching to correct illiteracy and learning to read and write in the Spanish language.
Compulsory secondary education: classroom teaching and individualized.
Preparation for the exams for the access to the Univerisity and access to Professional Formation.
Languages: Catalan, English and German.
Specific Professional Formation : specialities of Assistant treatments Nurse and Commerce Manager.
Other services
a) Información desk, enrolment and preparation for the Catalan exams of the Balearic Islands Government.
b) Service and academic orientation information
c) Excursions and cultural outings.

Manager responsable for the service: Miguel Mas
Headmistress of the School for Adults (by agreement with the Ministry of Education and Culture): Francisca Muńoz
Address: Camí de Sa Porrasa, 6, Magaluf
Telephone: 971.13.13.50
Hours of attention to the public: Monday to Fridays from 9.30 a 13.30 h and from 16 a 19.30h. From 15 July to 31 August closed.


‘What’s she saying?’ G’s Grandmother turns to me as if I am going to be able to translate my daughter’s babblings. G fixes her gaze on me and launches into another stream of complete nonsense accompanied by hand gestures and deeply serious facial expressions. ‘I haven’t a clue’ is the only reply I can give, as I truly don’t know what she’s on about.

I’m not exactly a baby expert you know, only having the one. So I don’t really know what to expect in the way of language development. My girl was born in Mallorca, she lives in an English speaking family, with English telly, music and books, and goes to a local municipal nursery where she is taught in Castillano and Catalan, and surrounded by other little Mallorquinas and Mallorquinos who are probably also growing up with at least two languages in their heads. She’s been at the nursery since she was a year old, which is almost two years ago now.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I know my girl is smart and quick – her sense of humour and understanding of what I am saying to her is absolutely on the button. I very proudly explain to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to me that my daughter will be at the very least trilingual, and I hope she learns many more languages than that along the way. But right now she’s all over the place with what comes out of her own mouth.

Or is she? Perhaps it’s just me not understanding a little girl’s interpretation of the languages that are around her. I don’t know. And that’s what is frustrating me here. She is so desperate to communicate and talk to us, but most of what comes out is gibberish, to us at least. Which leads to the most almighty of tantrums and misunderstandings.

It’s galling when she hangs out with our Mallorquin friends, Tomas and Consul, who quickfire Catalan at her and she nods in assent whilst we gape in incomprehension. And even worse when we’re stopped in the street by a kindly, well-meaning neighbour who kicks off in Catalan again and G again enjoys a better conversation than we ever do.


I understand why Mallorca is so adamant that its schools should teach in Catalan, I do. It’s a cultural identity, one which was denied for so long by Franco. But isn’t it actually going to disable its young as they grow up studying predominantly in a language which isn’t spoken much outside of Catalonia (which, although of course it is the centre of the Universe, is not the centre of the Universe of educational possibilities for a bright, young thing – if they studied outside of the confines of Catalonia where Catalan is the prinicpal language, then how would they manage in Spanish, which would be their second language rather than their first? Does that disadvantage a student? Possibly).

I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I get by. I like to throw in the odd Catalan word here and there, to show willing, but really it’s so different to Castillano, that I don’t know when, if ever, I will truly understand it. Which leads me to my next worry….. what happens when G goes to school? How will I help her with her homework if I can’t understand it either? I’m not the only immigrant parent who suffers this indignity, plenty of my girlfriends with similar aged kids are in the same situation, and we’re going to have to figure out a solution before homework becomes important. Or cross our fingers that Mallorca will relax its stance on teaching mainly in Catalan and move over to the more international Castillano. I know that I am not alone in feeling that the insistence by the Balearic government for Catalan is misguided, you’d be surprised by how many local people also think it’s a foolish thing to be doing.

There’s a private school opening in September which is going to be teaching in English, German and Spanish…… which hits hard against my Socialist principals, and my need for my daughter to grow up in her local community. It’s not an easy decision, but something we won’t need to seriously think about until she’s bigger. For now, she’s going to the local school in the Port from September where she will learn in Catalan and Castillano and we will supplement that learning at home by teaching her to read and write in English.

When I first came to Mallorca, I considered the future which I hoped would have children in it, and it does, but I certainly didn’t consider the details which all currently seem to be in Catalan.