The English Connection
25 de Febrero 2016
A grey mass of cloud squatted over the wrought-iron sign at the entrance. I walked up the steps and eased myself into the gentle curved lanes of the neighbourhood. Greeting an old lady sweeping her neat front yard, I wandered past semi-detached family houses with mock-Tudor beams and slanted roofs.
What could have been a scene from an English garden city was in fact taking place right here in Huelva, the Barrio Reina Victoria to be exact. While the unseasonal gloomy weather no doubt contributed to the effect, it was possible to imagine myself just for a moment over a thousand miles away, back home in England.
Language learning, like communication in general, is about making connections. You become a bridge between the people and culture of your country and that of your target language. It’s a difficult process, and the majority of learners will experience times when they feel alienated or bewildered by the challenge that they’ve taken on.
Your mother tongue is part of your way of life, and the environment you live in, whereas the foreign language you are learning seems totally out of place.
So it’s comforting for students of English that the city and region of Huelva abounds with links to the English-speaking world, like the Barrio Reina Victoria itself.
Built for the employees of the Rio Tinto Company in the nineteenth century, the barrio is one of a number of architectural echoes of the British influence in Huelva. Another example is the old railway pier that extends into the river at the port, once used in the export of copper and pyrite from the famous Rio Tinto mines in the province. Just down the road in Punta Umbria are examples of wooden chalets reminiscent of the English seaside.
While these are remnants of Huelva’s former economic dependence on British capital, the influence also extends into the cultural sphere. Onubenses proudly proclaim their local club, R. C. Recreativo de Huelva, as El Decano, in respect for its status as the oldest surviving football club in Spain.
Created in 1889, as the name suggests, as an outlet for recreation for the mine workers of Rio Tinto, the club may no longer be a big name in La Liga. However, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that the story of el Recre, and therefore of Huelva, marks probably Britain’s biggest cultural contribution to Spanish society, the introduction of football. The British introduced other sports to Spain, such as tennis and rugby, but none have been as successful as the Beautiful Game.
Huelva, like Britain, is an outward-looking community: for centuries trade has depended on the Atlantic Ocean, and the links between the discovery of the New World and Huelva are no secret. This means that there is also a link (albeit indirect) between the city and two of the largest Anglophone countries, the USA and Canada.
I’m not trying to say that the connections between Huelva and the English-speaking world mean that it is somehow easier to learn English in Huelva over any other city in Spain. However, I hope it is an extra source of motivation, as you go to Kedaro to learn English or study for your exams, to realise that you are participating in an exchange of culture and lifestyle that dates back centuries.
Now, if only I could find some decent fish and chips in this city…