108 – But You Don’t Speak Spanish …..

Anyone who has worked in HR or who has been for a job interview knows the trick that interviewers use, of asking you to tell them about your greatest faults.  This is never a good idea, as I found out when I began an interview for a volunteering role by telling her about my poor Spanish.

If you are able, do read the Spanish transcript of the conversation.  It is funnier in Spanish.  However there is an English translation below.  Please also bear in mind that civil servants / funcionarios exist everywhere, even in the best of charities …….


Si has trabajado en recursos humanos o has asistido a una entrevista de trabajo, sabréis que hay un truco que usan los entrevistadores, de pedir que les digas sobre tus mayores defectos.  Nunca es buena idea decirles, como descubrí yo cuando asistí a una entrevista para ser voluntaria, contándole sobre mi mal español  ……


Yo:   “Hola, estoy aquí para ofrecerme como voluntaria.  Puedo hacer los bocadillos o cualquier otro tipo de cosas similares.  Solo me preocupa que no hablo bien español.”

108-6Ella:   “Pues, puede ser un problema, si no hablas español.”

“No te dije que no hablo español, dije que no lo hablo con fluidez.  Podría cumplir órdenes, y estoy segura que podría trabajar en la cocina.”

“Si pero el problema es que no puedes hablar español.”

“Creo que sería problema cuando hable con las personas necesitadas.  Estoy 108-2acostumbrada a tratar con gente que sufre mucho, y he trabajado toda mi vida con los usuarios de las organizaciones de beneficencia.  Pero me preocupa que alguien tenga un problema mayor que la sola falta de comida.  Si yo no le entiendo la primera vez, tendría que repetirme su problema.  Y eso sería una mayor aflicción para él.”

“Si, exactamente.  Ese es el problema.  No hablas español.”

“Pues, estoy preocupada en provocar más sufrimiento a los usuarios.  Estoy segura que puedo entender las órdenes del jefe en la cocina.  Y pasado un tiempo, podríais decidir si es suficiente mi español para tratar con las personas necesitadas.”

“Pero no puedo ver como podrías ser voluntaria, pues no hablas español.”

“Puedo ser útíl, porque como extranjera, podría trabajar las fiestas cuando los españoles quieran estar con sus familias, como el 24 de diciembre o el 5 de enero.”

“Si, es verdad que siempre es difícil encontrar voluntarios para esos días.  Pero el problema es, como has dicho, que no hablas español.”

“¿Y te das cuenta de que estamos hablando español ahora, si?”

“Pero para ser voluntaria aqui, tendrías que hablar español.”

108-3“Hombre – ¿como ahora, no?  ¡Como lo estamos haciendo!  Si hubiera sabido que tenia que ser hablante nativa, no habría venido por aquí.”

“No te digo que tienes que ser española, solo que tienes que hablar español.”

“¡Estamos hablándolo!  ¡Vaya!  Te he entendido, me has entendido.  Y una cosa más …. hace un momento usé el tercer condicional, y es muy complejo!”

“Vale, pero no podemos aceptar a alguien como voluntaria si no puede hablar español.”

“Vale.  Voy a hacer una sugerencia.  Yo me voy ahora para aprender español.  Y cuando pueda hablar tu lengua, regresaré.  ¿Estaría bien?”

“Si, ésta bien.  Solo es que pienso que tienes que hablar español para ser voluntaria aquí ….”


And now the English version.  For those reading this part, just keep in your mind at all times that the conversation took place in Spanish ……

Me:  “Hi I’ve come to find out about volunteering.  I’m happy to make the sandwiches or anything that needs doing.  The only thing is I don’t speak Spanish fluently.”

Her:   “Hmmm that could be a problem, if you don’t speak Spanish.”

“Well I didn’t say I don’t speak Spanish, I said I don’t speak Spanish fluently.  I can take instructions, and I’m sure I could work in the kitchen.”

108-5“Yes but the problem is that you don’t speak Spanish.”

“I think where it would be a problem is speaking directly to the clients.  I’m used to dealing with people in distress, and I’ve worked with clients of charities all my life.  But it would worry me that if somebody had a problem over and above needing food, if I didn’t understand them the first time they might have to repeat their problem and that would just make things worse for them.”

“Yes exactly, that’s the problem – that you don’t speak Spanish.”

“Well my worry is only that I don’t want to create more difficulties for the clients.  I am sure that in the kitchen I would be able to understand the instructions from the supervisor.  And over time you could decide if my Spanish is adequate for me to deal directly with the clients.”

“But I just don’t see how you could be a volunteer as you don’t speak Spanish.”

“I could be quite useful – as a foreigner, as I could work on the holidays that are more important to Spanish people, like December 24th and January 5th.”

108-4“Yes those are always difficult days go get volunteers, but the problem, as you said, is that you can’t speak Spanish.”

“You do realise, don’t you, that we are speaking Spanish now?”

“But to be a volunteer, you’d need to speak Spanish.”

“What, like now, you mean?  Like we’re doing?  If I had known I had to be a native speaker, I wouldn’t have come here.”

“No I’m not saying you have to be Spanish, only that you have to speak Spanish.”

“We ARE speaking Spanish!  Pffff!   I have understood you, you have understood me.  And another thing – a minute or two ago I used the third conditional, and actually that’s really quite complex!”

“Yes but we can’t take someone as a volunteer if they don’t speak Spanish.”

108-1“OK here’s my suggestion, I’ll go away and learn Spanish, and come back when I can speak it, would that be alright?”

“Yes that would be good. I just think that you need to speak Spanish to be a volunteer here ….”

©  Tamara Essex 2014


NB – for obvious reasons there is no Language Point this week.  After all, I don’t speak Spanish.

Many thanks to my three teachers:  Juanmi (my “proper” profe), Jose (always my best resource), and ‘Dolfo (for the creativity).  Perdona mis errores.


15 thoughts on “108 – But You Don’t Speak Spanish …..

  1. So funny and sad at the same time 😦 By being pedantic about the amount of Spanish you speak they’ve lost a great volunteer!

    • No I’m not going to name and shame – it is a fab organisation doing really valuable work. I went back a month later and chatted to a man who was really nice and welcoming. I’m now choosing between two charities which I have visited.

  2. So, maybe now you should ring back and not mention that you ‘don’t speak Spanish fluently’, chat on the phone like normal and then when you are offered a position, then and only then, when face to face with a supervisor, do you mention your anxiety about one to one interaction with clients. Though to be honest, I really don’t think there would be a problem, your interviewer probably didn’t even understand what a third conditional is! I don’t for one lol!!!

    • Most people over about 40-50 wouldn’t understand what that tense is either. The language experts changed the names of the various tenses to make their own jobs sound more important such as the “simple past” became the “preterite” but forgot to tell the Americans that the ‘e’ on the end changes the sound of the preceding vowel, etc.

  3. “Y una cosa más …. hace un momento usé el tercer condicional, y es muy complejo!” – That made me really chuckle!

  4. Loved it. Not always lack of language but inflexibility. I have been away from Northern Ireland for 47 years (lived in Australia) Came over to the UK and rang to see about finding my old national insurance number, the conversation went something like yours with the first person She kept asking me if I knew my number and I replied No, that is why I am ringing. Well I was sent forms to fill in and now a few weeks later and rang the number again and was helped by a young man who said he thought I should hear back soon. Fed up waiting and have decided to go instead to Spain enjoy it and my friend will send me the info if and when it comes through. keep on writing most enjoyable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s