Language is a complex factor of a culture. It is the clay we use to mold our opinions, ideas, and needs. When speaking in another language, you find that some words simply cannot be directly translated. In my cultural psychology class last year, we discussed that the Eskimo language has over a dozen different words for “snow”. Language flows out of the needs of a culture. For me, it is interesting to think how the existence of a word leads to the initial formation of a concept. Occasionally people here will say to me in English, “Let’s walk through the shadow,” and I correct them with “shade”. In their native tongue, sombra is sombra. There is no distinction. They ask me, “What is the difference between shadow and shade?”. But- it’s hard to explain… For me, it is a concept formed inside long ago. Words in your first language are so closely connected with emotions that it can be difficult to pull them back out into their basic explanation. Thinking of a word brings up particular feeling which may not always be clear. I can feel the difference between shade and shadow, but articulating this is more challenging. For Spanish-speakers, this difference is entirely unknown. It has never existed among their thoughts.
The beginning of my trip here was a startling realization of the Spanish that I lacked. I would think to myself, I can discuss poetry and theater but I can’t name any of the objects inside the house? The first and most important things to learn were the phrases I used often with the kids: Don’t do that. Don’t hit her. Turn the TV down. Stop fighting… Spanish has been one of my biggest challenges here in Menorca. Living in a home, town, and country where English is limited has forced me out of my shell and given me the opportunity to learn more than I could in any classroom (trust me, I’ve been studying it for years). In the past, I’ve come to find that the more you learn about something, the more you realize how much there is left to learn. As I mentioned in my previous post, Jacky is from Uruguay. Her accent and form of speaking could be described as drastically different from those in Spain. For my experience, it requires me to learn double. My friend Alba, a native here, constantly helps me by gently pointing out a distinction, “The way you’ve said that, Kimber, is how they would say it in Uruguay. We usually say it like this…” She knows the family I live with, and graciously teaches me the differences I would never know on my own.
Entering a conversation in Spanish is scary, nerve-wracking, and mentally challenging. Athough, some days are better than others. Some days, such as when I meant to say “goat cheese” and accidentally cursed at Joan, I think maybe I’ve wasted my time. Other days, when I successfully manage the children, discuss the day’s events with the grandparents, and spend a whole night out with my friends and without English, I think how happy I am to have not given up in the past. But even when I’m making a fool of myself, I realize that you learn from mistakes (especially embarrassing ones!). In the meanwhile, I try not to think about how Kailua, a 3 year old, understands the conjugation of subjuntive verbs better than any fellow student I’ve encountered.
Hasta luego…until later…