The Logistics of Language

Translated classics from around the world sold in the subway stations.

Translated classics from around the world sold in the subway stations.

A few nights ago during dinner I found myself in a situation I never thought I’d be in.  I was attempting to explain precisely what a bagel is for my host family who were all looking at me, from 70 year old Marta to 8 year old Federica, with similar looks of interested confusion.  Looks that said, “I really want to know what you’re talking about but I have absolutely no idea what it is; do keep trying, though.”  And keep trying I did.  Eventually I was able to convey that a bagel is a circular piece of dense bread with a circular hole in the center; that they come in both sweet and savory flavors and are often eaten with cream cheese; and that they are very common in New York City. This explanation came however after many false starts on my part and even more attempts to guess what I was trying to say on the part of my host family.  It resembled a very poorly played game of Taboo and I’m still not sure if I was able to get my message across.   Hopefully my host family learned about a new type of bread that is rather conspicuously absent from the life of a student who has gotten through her first 2 and a half years at Georgetown thanks in no small part to the Corp’s bagels.  I certainly learned that my Spanish is nowhere near the level I thought it was on when I left the United States. I also learned that I probably should have paid more attention to the basic vocabulary in my middle school Spanish classes.

Starbucks in Buenos Aires: Where "Grande" truly means "Large."

Starbucks in Buenos Aires: Where “Grande” truly means “Large.”

This realization was only slightly disheartening as it set me up very well for my first day of classes beginning with my Spanish grammar workshop the next morning.  Having already been taken down a peg by the almost indefinable bagel, I was in an open-minded and humble mental space, ready to learn and re-learn all that I hadn’t retained in the past eleven years of Spanish instruction.  After one day of class I can already tell that this semester won’t be a walk in the park.  I never anticipated that it would be so but one always hopes, right?  My classes at the University of Buenos Aires begin on Tuesday and I’m looking forward to them with a mix of apprehension and academic curiosity.  While Political Sociology sounds riveting the dense reading list of scholarly texts (entirely in Spanish, of course) sounds terrifying and it’s all because of the language gap I’m facing.  At times it seems more like a language chasm than a gap.

It is in times like these that I must remember not to let my fear of the language overcome my desire to understand and be understood, even if that means playing a couple games of Taboo with my professors and making my Spanish dictionary my new best friend.  A relationship I should model after my host sister’s with her beat-up Spanish-English dictionary.  She’ll sit at the dinner table once she’s finished her meal flipping through the sections at random, reading just for the fun of it.  I need to remind myself the meaning of the word learning:  that mistakes along the way are common, if not expected, and okay because that’s where growth occurs.  I must fling myself into the linguistic void and not be afraid to fail at first in getting my message across the language gap.  What I see now is that navigating foreign languages is not for the faint of heart, you must be content with falling and picking yourself up one word at a time.

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