"Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which all loveliness arises." -Pedro Calderon de la Barca.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Writer's Workshop: Language Barriers

Language is a funny thing...
I grew up being the translator for my family.  Mom could understand some Spanish, but didn't speak it at all, and my brother was much younger than me.  I was fluent at 7 or so, so I did a lot of strange things like negotiate salaries for babysitters, get car tags, translate from the phone company for my mom.  I loved it honestly, that peek into the grown-up world.

I can remember going to Mexico City when I was about 12 for vacation.   Mom had this cool idea whenever we traveled to get a cabbie to take us around for an entire day.  She'd have them take us to places that they would go on a day off and we always saw the coolest things.  (Example: in Costa Rica the cab driver took us to his mom's house for popsicles,  a shoe store where they made the shoes to your feet, a drive by view of a mafioso's house in town...)
Well, the cab driver in Mexico started talking and I went "huh?"  I had never talked to anyone from Mexico and didn't realize they don't really speak Spanish.  I didn't know that different Spanish-speaking countries had such different vocabularies and accents.  I managed to muddle through to get the point across to him somehow, but when mom looked at me like "What is going on?"  I told her "Mom, sorry I don't speak Mexican."  (A couple of years in the restaurant biz in the U.S. and I quickly learned Mexican by the way!)

After most of my college I moved back to Panama to finish my senior year there.  My degree was in Spanish and most of my profs had studied in Spain. I guess I'd been paying attention because people at home would give me looks.  "Are you from Spain?"  They'd ask.  

My biggest challenge was moving to Arkansas.  I was in a co-ed dorm (NEVER put your kids in co-ed dorms by the way)  and had some kids come up to me the first week of school.

Them: "We fixin ta go up ta tha sto, you want we should carry you?"
Me: "Huh?"  
Them: (louder now) "We're fixin' ta go up to Walmart, want us to carry you there?"
Me:  (Thinking, I know how to walk, why would anyone offer to carry me somewhere?  What are they fixing?)
Now my roommate jumps in.
"Michelle, they are going to Walmart.  Would you like them to give you a ride there?"
Oh.

Mama's Losin' It

That's my attempt at writing this week.  Forgive me, I've been sick so my brain is still mushy.
Come join up on Mama Kat's Writing Workshop!


The prompts:
1.) Describe a time when you had difficulty communicating with someone who speaks a different language than you.
2.) If you could do your wedding over, how would you do it?
3.) Who are you giving a timeout to?
4.) What do you dream about? Explain a dream you’ve had recently without using the words ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘drunk as all get up”.
5.) What’s so good about it? Write an interesting poem or piece of writing where the last two words of the writing are ‘good-bye’

8 comments:

Diane said...

From a born and raised Southern girl, that was hilarious! I'd been saying fixin' to all my life until at 20 I dated a guy from Wisconsin who made me self concious about it. I never even realized it was a Southern thing to say until then. And I totally get the "carrying" someone to Wal-mart though I've never actually used that one myself. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Natalie said...

This post is awesome!! When I saw that prompt, I never thought that to do something like this - I've had run ins too with people speaking the same language, but with a thick accent that you can't understand!

alicia said...

Funny. I actually lived in GA when I was about 9 and developed a thick accent. Some of those words still come out every now and again.

Kathy G said...

This was my laugh for the day, thanks for sharing. I am married to a Jamaican,and have been around him for over 20 years. He only uses his Jamaican dialect sometimes, but a lot of the Jamaicans I have met use it all the time. I have come to understand them very well. Now alot of people think I am Jamaican because I am able to understand them and are surprise when I say I am spanish.

panamamama said...

Funny Kathy! The part of Panama I grew up in (Atlantic side) has a lot of Jamaican decedents and so people speak a mix of Spanish, Jamaican, English. It ends up being really fun to speak and listen to!

Unknown Mami said...

Never tell a Mexican they speak Mexican. It's still Spanish. There is no such language as "Mexican". Just like there is no "American"; it's still English. It may have differences, but it's still Spanish. I didn't grow up in Britain, but I can still understand their English. Different words are used in Argentina and Chile, but that does not make the language "Chilean" or "Argentinian". I'd have a hard time understanding some people in the South of the U.S., but they're not speaking, "Southern".

Anyway, can you tell you struck a chord? I do translation work for Spanish speakers from Spain, Mexico, and South America and there are differences for sure, but it is not a different language and as soon as your ear adjusts it's very easy to understand the different accents and colloquialisms.

Unknown Mami said...

I forgot to tell you that I did enjoy the post. I just went off on my pet peeve.

Background is that I've met so many people that do not speak Spanish and ask me if I speak Spanish or Mexican and I always reply, "Do you speak American or English?"

Anyway, I get the point of the post, but I focused too much on my pet peeve in the previous comment. My apologies.

panamamama said...

No offense taken, Mami, and I hope I didn't give any. I am a translator also and just think it's funny- remember I was 12 when I said that. I do speak Panamanian and I'm proud! (And it's not really Spanish half the time.) No apologies necessary and I'm sorry if it came off as offensive- I thought about it when I wrote it but it was all in the context. Plus, I like it when people tell me what they really think! :)

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