Galego Sen Fronteiras: Week 1 Program Review

Galician course group photo

Nobody freak out! Yes, I’m alive. And yes I’m still blogging. Sorry for such a long hiatus from posting anything. This summer has been going 100 miles per hour since it began and somehow it’s now August. So far this summer I’ve traveled to London, País Vasco, the south of France, and the Cíes Islands, all of which I’ll be writing about very soon. But my best excuse of all is that I spent the month of July living in Santiago de Compostela and becoming trilingual! (Slow clap for completing one of my life goals!) I just finished the Galego Sen Fronteiras language course and I’ve been speaking Galician since. Here’s my “Week 1 Program Review,” the first of three posts where I tell you everything you need to know about this awesome experience.

But wait, what’s Galician? If you’ve never heard of it, Galician is the co-official language spoken in the northwest region of Galicia, Spain. Since it’s a Romance language it shares many similarities to Spanish, Italian, and French, but it’s NOT a dialect of Spanish like some claim. Galician is actually older than Spanish and is where Portuguese originates from as well. Today there are between 3-4 million Galician speakers worldwide. But still, why learn such a small language?

Although Galician is beautiful and rich with history, this question gets asked all the time, even by some Galicians! If you read my blog you know I’ve lived in Galicia for years and I’ve dated a Galician for even longer. When I heard about the “Galician Without Borders” program for foreigners, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to finally begin speaking my region’s and boyfriend’s native tongue. I wanted to improve my standard of living here in Galicia and, of course, make my boyfriend and his family proud. But it turns out many other people did the program for lots of other reasons.

In total, 80 people from 20 countries came to the capital of Galicia this year to take the course. Some were linguistic majors or teachers; some had Galician relatives and wanted to better communicate with family; others were just language junkies, here to add another language to the list they already speak. The group ranged from 18 (minimum requirement) to around 60 years old. Many participants came thanks to scholarships offered by the Galician government. If you’d like to apply, here are the course details from 2017 (in Galician and English.)

Without further ado, let’s dive into week 1!

Luns – Monday

10:00-12:00 Sign-in and reception

12:30-13:30 Inauguration to the program

16:00-17:00 Placement exam

Monday went like any typical first day: we met, mingled, and got a feel for the program. We signed in at the office in the Praza da Universidade in Santiago and received a folder of program details. Around noon the inauguration started in the Facultade de Filosofía across the street where the president and directors of the Real Academia Galega welcomed us to the course. They put on a nice reception for us in the most Galician way possible: with empanada, tapas, and Estrella Galicia beers! Right away I met people from all over the world—girls from Italy, Cuba, and Brasil and guys from Mexico, England, and Israel—who ended up being my best friends throughout the program. Here’s a video from the Nós Television channel of that morning.

In the afternoon we returned to the Facultade de Filosofía to take a placement exam to find out our level. The test had a listening section, a short writing about that recording, and a few fill-in-the-blank exercises. Overall the exam was fairly easy, but I was surprised there was no oral test. After about 40 minutes I was finished, and that was it for day 1!

Martes – Tuesday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conference: O galego alén das fronteiras (Galician beyond borders), Francisco Calvo

16:00-17:30 Conversation class

I’m not going to lie—I had been nervously anticipating this day since I signed up for the program. Let’s face it, jumping into an intensive course of a language you can’t speak is nothing but terrifying. It’s really sink or swim. But like always, I’m glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone because I not only had two great professors, but my class was the nicest group of people you could meet. Of the three levels—elemental, medio, and superior—I tested into medio. Our daily schedule consisted of a grammar class, a (mandatory) conference by a famous Galician author, actor, singer, etc., and a conversational class.

At noon we attended the first conference with the Galician author Francisco Calvo (pen name Coimbra) who talked about his book Crónica Crónica. He discussed a topic that I’ve found is as important to understanding Galician as the grammar itself: the oppression and dismissal of the language throughout history. (I plan to write an entire article about this, so I’ll just summarize here.) Since Medieval times, Galician began to get the reputation of being a language of “poor, uneducated” farmers due to the influence of Spanish nobility. This only worsened with the dictator Franco who outlawed the language all together, including its literature. Though it’s now officially recognized, there are still very strong, mixed emotions about Galician today.

The conference was incredibly interesting and empowering with the idea of “letting your voice be heard in whatever language you choose.” It seems nearly impossible to imagine as a native-English speaker what it’d be like if suddenly English was illegal. It definitely puts into perspective the privilege that comes with speaking the “universal language.”

Mércores – Wednesday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conversation class

On the second day of classes I could clearly see how much living in Galicia for years helped me in this course. Of my classmates my Canadian friend, a fellow auxiliar de conversación, was the only other person that had lived here before. From listening to my boyfriend’s family and our friends speaking Galician everyday, I was able to understand almost everything even though I couldn’t speak it. It’s both amazing and frustrating and a big reason I did the program—to finally start speaking! So I made that my goal for the first week and most importantly, to speak confidently.

Xoves – Thursday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conference: Entre un galo e un polbo (Between a rooster and an octopus), anecdotes by Carlos Casares told by Avelino González

16:00-17:30 Conversation class

By Thursday classes seemed to flow very naturally. We’d learn grammar points like articles and prepositions in the morning and practice using new vocabulary words in the afternoon.

This day for our conference the Galician actor and director, Avelino González, gave by far the best presentation of the entire program. I’ve never seen a more animated person in my life—he’d even give Jim Carrey a run for his money! For almost two hours he bounced around the stage acting out stories from the late, Carlos Casares, an influential Galician author. The quirky title of the conference, “Between a Rooster and an Octopus” is in reference to two novels written by Casares, The Rooster of Antioquía and A Giant Octopus. The titles of these books about Galician life allude to the region’s unique geographical characteristic of having both countryside (“rooster”) and ocean (“octopus”).

Venres – Friday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conference: Cultura galega na rede (Galician culture on the web), Manuel Gago

Grazas a Deus é o venres! TGIF indeed because after spending a week speaking and thinking in a new language, your head just hurts. It didn’t help that during the conference this day the speaker basically just showed us graphs of internet usage in Galicia. Sorry, but Zzz! However, he did show us some helpful websites if you’re studying Galician such as academia.galculturagalega.org, and two useful apps, ConxuGalego and Dicionario RAG. I recommend downloading them for anyone trying to learn the language.

Sábado – Saturday

All day Class trip to the Rías Baixas: Cambados, O Grove, Toxa, Combarro

Last but not least, on Saturday there was a day trip that visited towns in the province of Pontevedra in the Rías Baixas. This guided excursión wasn’t mandatory but was included in the cost of the program.

The first stop was in Cambados, a small fishing town on the coast famous for its seafood and Albariño. Albariño is arguably the most popular white wine in Galicia and is made in this zone. Every August Cambados holds the oldest wine festival of the region.

Next up was a short stop at Lanzada beach. Here the guide explained about the legend of the beach. “Nine circles, nine waves, nine months.” If you circle the solo pine tree on the isle nine times, you’ll cleanse yourself of bad spirits. If you sit in the water and let nine waves wash over you, you’ll get pregnant, hence the nine months. Needless to say I’ll be staying out of that water!

Then our group visited the small town of Toxa that has a church that’s entirely covered in white shells. These are vieira shells, or scallops, which are also the symbol of the Camino de Santiago.

After lunch in O Grove, it was siesta time on the Major beach. Finally, we finished the day in Combarro. As I mentioned before, Galicia’s unique for having both the ocean and countryside. Combarro is famous for being the spot where the two meet. Right beside the sea in this 12th century town are old stone structures called hórreos. Pronounced almost exactly like the double-stuffed chocolate cookies, these small structures were where people stored corn to keep it dry and safe from mice.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed hearing a little about my life here in Galicia. Would you like to study Galician? Look out for my Week 2 Review coming soon! Happy travels!

Written by

I'm an American expat living in Galicia. I want to inspire travel, learn a dozen languages, and try every food in the world.

7 Comments

  • Sabine Piro

    Hi Heather,

    I have recently applied for this course and of course I have been very curious to find out more about it. I found your blog really interesting and it has given me a fairly good idea about how the course is organised. However, one question keeps popping up in my head: How do they teach Galician to people from so many different countries and with such different levels of knowledge?! Basically what I am asking is do they teach this course in Galician and if so how does that work when for example explaining grammar? I have just finished a short 10-week introductory course here in Ireland but I am finding it extremely difficult to understand spoken Galician. Could you tell me more about your experience with that? Any info would be much appreciated:)
    Thanks in advance.
    Ata logo perhaps,
    Sabine

    • Heather

      Ola Sabine!
      Yes they teach everything in Galician from day one, even grammar. We take a placement exam the first day and everyone is split into beginner, intermediate or advanced. That probably sounds scary and the first week is definitely difficult, but you start understanding a lot by just listening, reading and looking everything up in the dictionary! I took a Spanish intensive course before as well when I didn’t know hardly any Spanish and it was the same, full immersion on the first day. It really works! It would be a huge advantage if you do some studying on basic verbs before you come so you know personal pronouns and a few verbs. And then it’s study, practice, study, practice every day during the course. With intensive courses like this you really get out of it what you put in it. It’s a lot of fun though! Hope this helped. Maybe I’ll see you in July then!

      Happy travels!
      -Heather

      • Sabine Piro

        Hi again Heather,

        thanks for all your advice. Very sound! 😉 I’ve been listening a lot to Radio Galega in preparation and I have done a little revision. No doubt, I will be stumped initially!

        As far as living in Compostela is concerned do you have you any places you can recommend for a decent empada and a cold Estrella? I’ll be arriving Sunday and I know supermarkets will be closed. I will have to venture out and forage some food. Any recommendations you might have are much appreciated.

        Maybe we’ll bump into each other some time.

        Ata loguinho!
        Sabine

        • Heather

          Hey there Sabine!

          I hope you made it safely and have enjoyed Santiago so far! I love love LOVE La Cueva and they usually serve you free tapas of empanada there. The best thing they have though are the tigres rabiosos, mussels in this delicious mildly spicy sauce. That’s my favorite place to take people that are new to Santiago. I love this place called Cervecería Rua Bella (Rúa Nova 17) for tortilla. It looks very touristy but it actually is really good! That’s one of my go-to spots. Make sure to try Bicos for Galician ice cream too!

          I could go on and on but that will get you started!
          Happy travels!
          -Heather

          • Sabine Piro

            Hi Heather,

            Thanks for the recommendations. The places are all quite close to me.

            The course is an absolute rollercoaster, just as you had described. There aren’t enough hours in the day!!! I can’t believe this is already week two. But hopefully I’ll get to check out my ever growing list if places to see, things to do and of course things to eat;)

            Best,
            Sabine

             
  • Filipa Gonçalves

    Hi Heather,

    I’ve been reading your posts about the Galician course because I’ll be doing it myself this Summer. Your articles have only made me even more excited about the course and I can’t for it to start!
    You said you were planning on writing an article about the dismissal of the language throughout history and I was wondering if you’d ever got round to doing it? I’m planning on basing my dissertation for university on this and would be really interested to read what you have to say about it.

    Hopefully I’ll see you in July,
    Best wishes ,
    Filipa

    • Heather

      Hey Filipa!

      Thanks for checking out my blog! I do plan on writing that article but haven’t gotten around to it yet. It’s on my do to list this summer though! That’s cool you want to write about that! How did you become interested in Galicia?
      I may see you in July when I visit friends doing the course, but I won’t be able to do it this year unfortunately. 🙁 Let me know what you think about the course!

      Happy travels!
      -Heather

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