Speaking the Lingo
"Spanish words, Spanish, Spanish?" That’s basically how one of the interns interpreted the typical conversation we had on the way to Peru and several times during the trip. I’m no stranger to being in places where I don’t speak the language.
I’ve lived in Korea, visited Cambodia, Greece, and Turkey, all with little or no knowledge of the language. I learned Korean while I was there. I didn’t spend that long in Cambodia, Greece, or Turkey, so besides learning ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ I never really got much chance to learn.
In Peru, though, it was like my brain was an awesome Spanish sponge. On the airplane and the first day or so I felt like I was hearing for the first time. Nothing made any sense. It was overwhelming. My brain fried and sizzled, overloaded with trying to compute. Then, all of a sudden, I could tell where words started and ended. It wasn’t just a random jumble of sounds. I could hear the intonation and guess at the intention. My teeny, tiny knowledge of Spanish kicked in. I could start using the basic grammar I’d tried to learn and I could put two and two together to figure out the English equivalents. Catacumbas and catacombs? No problem! Autobus and bus? Easy!
And, finally, the words I didn’t know became easier to learn. I picked up some here and some there. Our Peruvian coworker usually spoke English to us, but as the weeks wore on, we could understand a lot of what she said to us when she slipped into Spanish.
Now, if I can continue to practice, maybe next time I won’t feel so lost!