Raiders Of The Local Language

Raiders Of The Local Language

I’ll be honest with you – I have never had a desire to learn another language, except for a phase when I was young and I was going to grow up to be Indiana Jones, in which case I was going to learn all kinds of ancient and dead languages if it meant I could adventure around the world to a John Williams soundtrack.  That didn’t work out so I always felt that learning a new language seemed like a lot of work.  And I’ll share another honest admission with you: I’m not an expert at my own native language of English (that is coming from my pedantic hubby, who comes by his English prowess honestly as his mother is an English teacher – although she’s not nearly as pedantic as he is – and a quick word of advice: NEVER challenge that woman to a game of Scrabble).

We have now been living in a land, for a little over three months, where we don’t speak the language.  Hubby took French and Latin in high school (quick question:  when would Latin EVER come in handy?) and doesn’t remember much of either language training.  But Mr. Smartypants – along with both my girls – are excelling in our Spanish lessons much, much faster than I am.  But I digress:  this blog isn’t about them, it’s about me.

Besides the work involved in the language learning, there is a lot of pressure to learn it quickly.  I’m not in high school or college taking Spanish lessons for course credit, nor am I traveling to a Spanish speaking country soon on vacation and want to be able to get by.  And apparently I’m no longer planning on searching for the long lost Ark of the Covenant.  I am living and breathing and shopping and ordering in a country where I don’t speak the language (yet) and it’s challenging and frustrating and scarey and stressful – and that’s just at the Starbucks counter.

Assuming I could continue to be a lazy-language pupil, I incorrectly figured before we came here that I would be able to depend on my trusty cellphone to provide me with a helpful translating app.  Boy, how handy would it have been if Marion had had a cellphone on her when she and Indy got separated, and Indy thought she had been killed, right?  Digressing again and back to me: why would I really have to put in so much time and effort to learn this new language when I have this handy box on me – at all times – that with a few taps on the extremely small letter buttons – I can converse with anyone!?

Let me tell you the problem with that:  Spanish does not literally translate into English – and vice versa.

Let me give you an example.  I use a texting application here that is organized into groups, and when you text in a group – everyone in that groups sees the text so you end up with a scrolling text conversation to try and follow.  It’s really annoying.  I’ve been added to the groups for both my daughter’s classrooms (and it’s all in Spanish) – and do my best to follow along and translate texts to figure things out like upcoming class events (such as picnics, which apparently I owed money for), cancellation of practices (that one I never got) – and other stuff like that.  Speaking of picnic money – here’s a recent text I translated:

“No es obligatorio que vayan los papas, perio sie gustan ir lo van a disfrutar.  El dinero envialo en el sobre que nos mandaron y que so lo entregue a Miss Katie”

Translation according to my phone: “It is no mandatory to be popes, but if they are going to go like disfrutar send the money in the envelope they sent us and handed it to Miss Katie”. 

So just like Dr. Jones agonizing over which cup to choose, I’m frantically trying to figure out:  do I owe money or not?  How much?  I understand I need to put it into an envelope, and then what?  Give it to Miss Katie or someone else?  (Apparently I choose poorly like that poor Nazi dude because this payment controversy became an issue for me at the horchata table at the picnic).

Turns out trying to rely on translator apps hasn’t been the best idea.

Also problematic is that I don’t think folks around here have a strong understanding of English – or more specifically, I’m not sure they understand English swear words – or they just aren’t concerned.  Problematic for us here is that none of the American music played on the radio, or in stores – is censored at all.  A perfect example of this is that while our family was recently shopping for groceries at the local Walmart (I hate shopping for groceries, and I also hate Walmart) – but, regardless of that, while we were trying to squeeze avocados and read the buy-dates on the milk cartons we were being serenaded by Lil Jon’s “Shots” song – which is about as inappropriate for young ears as they come.  Think I’m getting a little prudish in my old age?  Check out the song lyrics here.  If I get the phone call from school that one of my girls may have used some of the language from this song, I’m going to forward their call to Walmart’s customer service department.  (I realize it’s not snakes, but still:  “Lil Jon… why’d it have to be Lil Jon”?)

Not to sound like all I’m doing here is complaining about using español or inglés correctly:  two of my favorite things so far about our life here are our two Spanish teachers (the girls have a beautiful young lady with long blonde hair whom they love – and has been very helpful and is great with our girls – the youngest of which proclaims “she’s the best teacher ever!”) and our own maestra (who has an amazing smile with an interesting background, tons of language and psychology degrees and a fun sense of humor, except when we don’t do our homework).  She’s given me an affectionate Spanish nickname of “Hannita” and I’m pretty sure secretly I’m her favorite estudiante.  I think we all enjoy our bi-weekly lessons – although for me they are very strenuous – especially as I share the classroom with a pedantic husband (don’t know what “pedantic” means, you say?  Call hubby’s mom and ask her – I bet she knows).  Most of the time I feel like Ron, sitting next to Hermione in Professor Flick’s classroom trying to do the Wingardium Leviosa spell (“you’re saying it wrong. It’s LeviOsa, not LevioSA“) and I’m sure the look of disgust that creeps on my face is just like Ron’s in the movies.  If I was really learning the Wingardium Leviosa spell I guarantee you the first thing I would do would be to levitate my hubby out of the lesson.  Fun fact:  John Williams also composed the music to the first three Harry Potter films – that man is a movie musical genius in my opinion.

I really hope to start improving soon on my linguistic skills.  If for no other reason than to be better prepared if my plane goes down over India and I have to go in search of the holy Sankara Stones.  Until then I’m finding that simple hand gestures, miming, drawing, pointing all go a long way – and the most important universal gesture of all:  smiling.

Hannita’s learning that smiling gets you pretty far in this world.


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