Life works out pretty funny sometimes. In the comments last week a friend jokingly urges me to go to church in a bid to overcome my immersion trials, and then there I am only a couple of days later. Did I find Jesús? Not quite. But pretty much the next best thing.
The story begins with my one and only TEFL colleague here in Cáceres. We got chatting in the initial days of being here, discussing our immediate impressions, difficulties with the language and what more could possibly be lying in wait. If you said to me then that I’d be attending church before my first two weeks were out, I’d probably have scoffed hard. Maybe even have swallowed my tongue!
But, as the story goes, that’s exactly what happened. After hearing from her about how she’d contacted the community before coming out here, how they’d put her up, how they had they helped with her Spanish – well that was something I definitely wanted to see more of with my own eyes. So I decided: why – and for the sake of this topic – *cuss* not?
Cheek Kisses, Firm Handshakes and Settling In
For those of you who don’t know me that well, I don’t really consider myself a religious person, nor do I ever attend any sort of religious service back home. Yet something about being here in Spain, immersed, alone, feeling a little bit lonely and in desperate need of getting out and meeting people – well something told me it would be a good idea.
I wasn’t wrong.
Walking the twenty or so minutes to the Church I was briefed that it was all a rather informal affair yet I would be expected to introduce myself and use my Spanish. Game on!
Upon entering I was greeted by the whole congregation, exchanging formalities in Spanish and doing my best to explain who I was and what I was doing here in Spain and, secondly, here at church! Kisses on both cheeks with both the old and young, firm hand shakes with church seniors and some much expected stuttering and stammering later and I found myself sitting pretty in my seat.
What came next was probably one of the best Spanish lessons I’ve ever had.
Totally Immersive Experience
First up came the songs with some clangy guitar chords and a bit of percussion thrown in. Within minutes I was singing (or murmuring – for those that have heard my singing voice), for the first time ever, live and in public, in the target language. I didn’t even feel a bit embarrassed about doing so. As the environment goes it’s a pretty happy one where everyone enjoys the chance for a good hym-a-long. I didn’t even have to put up with Cliff Richard. Or rain at Wimbledon.
What followed next were a few quick sermons and some prayers and thoughts from members of the congregation that I was able, mostly, to get the gist of. In my mind I was focusing hard on the words and structures and trying to translate, all the time committing to memory useful vocabulary for future use.
Then what followed, which I’ve never experienced during all my time in church (which, as I’ve said, is little to none), was an interactive Spanish reading of a missionary website followed by a video about missionaries in Kenya helping to get the bible translated into tribal languages for the first time. Quite a varied amount of practice there and pretty interesting to boot!
The whole sermon – about a one and a half hour in length – was capped off finally by the church leader (an American speaking in Spanish) giving the final sermon on the topic of “buenas noticias” (good news). The pace and length at which he spoke made it relatively easy to follow the whole thing. I think I even heard “pornography” mentioned at one point. A condemnation I’m sure.
Long Term Impact
So while the church failed to deliver me into the hands of God, it did provide for me ample opportunity to listen, speak and read in Spanish. Not to mention meet a lot of great people who offered to help and welcome me, a stranger, into their lives and those of their families.
As for my language goals, the whole experience has somewhat shifted them too. Now, after this first session, I plan to attend church each weekend that I can during my time in Caceres. This whole experience of interacting in a warm, conducive, environment is much more healthy than hours spent bent over a grammar book or a Spanish novel.
There’s definitely room in my heart for Church, if not for Jesús (not that I’m ruling that out!).
The church I attended here in Caceres is called Iglesia Evangelica El Puente, you can find out more and contact them by visiting this site.
And for language learning? At the sake of offending the religious among you, let’s just say it’s brimming with opportunity. You don’t have to follow every word of the Good Lord to appreciate it.
How many of you have considered taking this approach to learning a new language? Is it ethically OK?