September 19th, 2011 by

It has been a long time since I have traveled to a country where English isn’t the predominant language. The last major trip I took to a non-English speaking country was Costa Rica ten years ago, where Spanish was the only other language spoken. Barcelona, however, is fascinating because it is so diverse that one can not assume that the person next  to you speaks Spanish. They certainly might, but they also might only speak the native language of the province, Catalan, or perhaps they are German, or Swiss, or  French. It continually amazes me walking down the street how little of the overheard conversations I can understand. I think this is one of the things that makes the city so exciting to me and gives it depth of character.

I am also continually impressed by the number of languages spoken by the people I meet. For instance, there are six people who reside in my current apartment of which an Australian girl and I only speak English but between the rest of them they speak: English, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, French, Russian and German. They claim this has more to do with the proximity of countries and that many of the European languages have similar roots rather than an overarching interest in language. This makes sense, but makes me wonder if perhaps Americans are missing out by being so insular and allowing ourselves to be so comfortable with our one language.

However, I love little moments when some understanding of  a language runs into the wall of fluency and the whole conversation gets stuck. That’s a vague statement, let me give you another example: On Friday night I was out at a club, and a German guy started to talk to me but he only knew a little English so, at some point in our discussion of (I wish I were joking) the ethical ramifications of America’s deficit structure remodeling on German ecotourism, he couldn’t remember a certain word in English so he had to have a short whispered conversation with his friend who was sitting next to him who didn’t know the right word. So, that friend had to ask his Italian girlfriend who speaks better English but instead of having her just say the word to me it got passed back down the line like the game of telephone. These sorts of round-robin conversations happen fairly frequently when speaking to multiple people from different places. I find them highly edifying and maybe a little entertaining.

Another example of mixed-up conversations occur frequently in my class because of the cultural make-up of my class: half the class is from Spain though most of them from other parts of Spain;we also have three people from Mexico, one from Brasil, one from Portugal and me. Which makes me the only native English speaker, but the girls from Portugal and Brasil speak Portuguese as their native language. So, the Mexicans have trouble because a lot of the phrasing and words are a little different. Occasionally, there is mass confusion during discussions when some word means different things to the different parties, but generally this goes over my head. The Portuguese girls are also having trouble because neither of them is truly fluent but the languages are very similar; although, I think they are getting along better than I am. However, luckily for me, one of the Mexicans has recently spent a lot of time is San Diego and speaks fluent English so he can help me with concepts of words I do not understand. We have developed a system where I sit next to Jose and the Portuguese girl with the better English sits on the other side of me and when a problem occurs in class,  Jose will whisper a translation of what just happened to me and I’ll tell Anna who will than pass it on to the Brazilian girl across the way. It is certainly not a perfect system,  but for now it is keeping everybody on the same page until we can overcome our language barriers.

A sunset out my window!

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa