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Treading the boards

In the 1970s, as Sixth Formers, we were obliged to take it in turns read the daily lesson in school assembly from the Bible. "This morning's lesson is taken from the Gospel according to St John Chapter 15 verse 14." When it was my turn I bribed someone to swap weeks with me. I took the half term week. By paying, and I was willing to pay a lot, I would only have to stand on stage and do that chapter and verse stuff three times instead of five. I hate - and I can't stress enough how strong that word is - performing. Dancing in public fills me with dread. Again, mark the word: dread. Almost any humiliation is better than dancing, or performing in any other way. I spent sleepless nights for weeks beforehand worrying about "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends." Somebody trying to force me to dance "because I'll love it when I get started" has no idea to just how close they are to violence.

I know that it's not important. What's the worst that can happen? I might have got some of the words wrong when reading from the Bible or I may look like a fool when dancing. Even if I were to be temporarily struck dumb or to fall over it wouldn't matter much.

We've just been out for the evening. On Wednesdays I generally only work till eight. We decided against the pictures tonight. We did a couple of bars instead - tapas, a couple of beers and some very pleasant live music.

We've been to the music bar a few times recently. We got a warm welcome. I asked for bottled beer, the waiter told me they had two new beers that were worth a try. He explained that one was powerful, 8º, whilst the other was a Christmas beer. In choosing I used a phrase about seven words long and made two grammatical errors. It wasn't a big deal. The lad behind the bar knew what I'd said, he was friendly, my grammatical lapses didn't fase him but it upset, really upset, me. Later, I wanted a whisky. I chose a brand that I can pronounce easily. Not something impossible like White Label (Gúite Labble) or Cutty Sark (Kattysarrk) The woman behind the bar leaned forward so I could repeat my order - she got my pronunciation the second time. Then there was the inevitable confusion over ice - no I don't wan't ice, just whisky, no ice, nothing more.

I can say everything and anything I want to using Spanish. I make lots and lots of grammatical mistakes. I don't always have the precise word but I can find a way round. I can't say the letter r adequately which is a big problem but in context they get the idea. My Spanish accent sounds very English and it has an English cadence but then again Bruno Tonioli and Antoine de Caunes make the most of their accents. Often there is some sort of confusion but I'm no worse at Spanish than lots of my "advanced" students are at English.

I told my work colleagues that I don't want to go to the Christmas do. They're nice people. We go to good places but I don't understand their Spanish conversation sufficiently. I get angry with myself, I drink whatever alcohol is to hand very quickly for something to do. Soon I can't speak English either and I sit there, quietly, until I can eventually flee. For the next few days I'm ashamed of my behaviour and I keep out of everyone's way. It doesn't make for a pleasant experience. They are still trying to persuade me to go sure that, like dancing, I'll enjoy it when I get started.

When I changed phone contract I lost the use of an email reader application that I liked. I can't get it re-instated it on the Internet. I need to telephone someone. I have decided that I can check my email easily enough on my phone a different way if I need to.

It's only a bit of a pain - who needs a doctor? I won't go on but I'm sure you get the idea.

The problem isn't really the Spanish it's the terror of the Spanish. That terrible, overacted Marlon Brando sort of terror. It's the terror of standing on stage in front of an audience, it's the same terror as having to dance. It's not the Spanish. It's me.


  1. Although I'm a fluent Spanish speaker, I feel just the same as you for a different reason. I've stammered all my life (less so as I get older) and it's all caused by nerves, particularly with the Spanish language. The fluency is in my head, not on my tongue - though can be steadied to an extent by alcohol. Up until my thirties I was very quiet indeed at parties in Argentina and Spain. I just tried to laugh in the right places and raise my eyebrows in agreement when it was called for. What has helped is gradually realising that most of us are the same - something or other makes us nervous, and the key is what we do to hide it. The confident ones onstage are often thicker than we are, so that's a great consolation! (Nasty I know, but infinitely reassuring, as long as I don't let on that it's what I'm thinking.)
    And - people tend to like (or respect) you instantly when they realise you're struggling, but you're still doing your best.


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