Written by Rebecca Wood.
A few months ago I went to a bank to set up an account. I had recently moved to Spain and was barely able to string together two words in Spanish. Aya caramba was the extent of my Spanish, which really didn’t help me out in daily life.
Forget about Google translator
I had googled the translation for ‘new account’, and shyly told the lady at the counter that I wanted una cuenta. Fact: Spanish women are very scary. Now imagine an encounter with a Spanish woman working for a bank! Aya caramba!
She smiled, then shook her head, signalling that she doesn't speak any English. I was to wait for her English speaking colleague.
“That went well…” I thought and took a seat.
After a good 2.5 hours, the said colleague finally beckoned me into her office. To my surprise, her English was limited to good afternoon.
I wasted 2.5 hours of my life for nothing. Imagine all the other amazing things I could have done during that time. (Perhaps I could have learned some Spanish. I can never get those 2.5 hours back!)
I have four words for you: the power of scripting.
When I walked into that bank, clearly not from Spain with my blonde hair, blue eyes, and minimal Spanish, I made the lady at the counter, let’s call her Margarita, feel uncomfortable. (I made a scary Spanish Señora feel uncomfortable. Who knew this could happen?) I even had my translator out and ready because of the obvious language barrier, shaking while mumbling some random Spanish words. I was the epitome of a foreigner.
Margarita could have easily opened my bank account then and there but was reluctant to serve me, which resulted in me twiddling my thumbs for 2.5 hours.
Scripting is a powerful weapon
I could have shot a well-rehearsed and memorized script at our friend Margarita, and would have killed it with confidence. I could have walked in that place like I owned it and walked out 30 minutes later with a brand new bank account set up by no other than good old Marg.
With this simple step, Margarita would have smiled and then nodded! She would have started the paperwork while explaining a lot of things to me in rapid Spanish, thinking I belonged to the secret club of scary Spanish speaking señoritas. How do I know this? Because that’s exactly what the ‘English speaking’ colleague did.
I would have smiled, throwing in a casual si here and there. Margarita would have then asked me if I wanted an English copy of the contract, e voila! (yes, I’m aware that’s not Spanish.)
Isn’t that lying? Maybe. So what? Scripting will not only save you 2.5 hours of your life but also connect you to the community.
Getting used to natives
Making people like Margarita feel at ease when you try to strike up a conversation will allow you to engage with native speakers. I promise you that! (This time I’m not lying.)
You will get a chance to hear the language, practice the language and ultimately learn the language. Instead of being turned away, Margarita will want open that bank account for you!
By hearing the language you will be able to mimic its sounds and melody, avoiding a thick accent and encouraging fluency. No one wants an accent. And let me tell you, that Margarita doesn't really want to listen to that disgustingly thick accent either! That’s probably why I got sent away.
You can script anything! Do you want to charm that cutie next door? Script it! Are you looking for something at the pharmacy? Script it! Are you ordering food and drinks? Script it, and they might throw in a few freebees (Save money AND sound good… Score!).
Scripting will work wonders and bring you closer to locals, who will include you in their conversations, culture, and lifestyle. Isn’t that really what learning a foreign language is about?
Yes, maybe you won’t understand much, or anything to begin with, but at least you are now involved. Every time the Margaritas of this world indulge you in conversation, you have already won.
Is this really lying, or is it just downright smart?
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Read more about moving and studying abroad:
Guide to Best Banks for Expats in Spain
10 Reasons Why You Need to Visit Spain Right Now
How to Get a Visa in Spain in 10 Steps for Americans