The Old Testament marks how, as a punishment to God’s people for trying to be as high and mighty as Him by building the tower of Babel, God not only toppled the tower with a swift “kick”, he scattered his people throughout the land and confused them with different languages and dialects so that they could not understand each other and seemed to “babble” to one another. Punishment? Hundreds of thousands of languages throughout the world-each unique, difficult, and intriguing to an outside listener. Punishment? I think not. I find myself submerged in a different language here in Spain for the week and, although closely tied to French as a “romantic” language, I am still constantly perplexed with conversations throughout the day. Either by the young Spanish gentlemen at the bar or by the little school children frolicking at the plaza for a field trip, the rapid speech is an enigma of sorts unable to be calculated by me.
A couple weeks ago, I read in a book entitled, “How to Make the Most out of your Study Abroad Experience” a chapter on languages. To sum it up, we humans don’t give enough credit to the ability to communicate-until we are in a place where we can’t speak the language. A grown person, mature, well-educated, full of insightful thoughts, opinions and values can diminish to that of a small child or toddler in the eyes of others when they don’t speak the language of their current environment. Think about it; if all you can do is smile, nod your head, and say the basics of “Yes”, “No”, “Please”, “Thank you”, “Hello”, “Good bye” and “I am hungry”, then in the eyes of the native speakers, you are no more educated than a child. Sure you might seem very nice and friendly to people without speaking by smiling, laughing, hugs, and handshakes (all internationally recognized forms of communication) but so are Labrador retrievers, and even they can “handshake”.
Knowledge of language is important-‘nough said. And it also shows the people wherever you are that you respect them and their culture that you made enough of an effort to learn something without just ignorantly thinking that because you speak English, that everyone else should too.
Visiting my wonderful, beautiful, and amazing friend, Grace, who is also studying abroad this semester in Alcala, Spain, I do find myself understanding a lot of what people are saying due to my relative knowledge of French. At meals with her family, I can understand the general subject of their conversation of the news, the weather, and football but not being able to add my 2¢ kills me. Maybe this is a good thing though-instead of having to make a point or add anything; I can just listen and learn-which is another thing that I believe humans need to work on: listening.
Next time you are in a conversation with a friend who is telling you about their day or how they were in some situation, instead of jumping in with, “That happened to me too the other day!” or “I know exactly how you feel!” or “Okay, this is what you do…”, basically cutting them off, just listen until they are done-I mean completely finished. Period. End of exclaimed breath. Trust me, your friend will appreciate you that much more.
My experience of 2 days so far of being in Spain has been wonderful…however very different than ANYTHING in Senegal, but I’ll comment on that later. So far though, this experience has re-vamped my passion for French. To be honest, my love of the French language was starting to wane as I felt I would never become fluent (Wolof need no worries-it will always be in my heart). But the way Spanish phrases flow from Grace’s mouth effortlessly shows me that by not being afraid to engage in conversation with natives, read books and newspapers daily, watch the local news and T.V., and most importantly, speak French with other American students, fluency will become natural and not something that is as painful and difficult as pulling teeth.
Onward with my adventures in Spain, next up, churros and chocolate with Grace….mmmmmmmmmm….Adios ahora.