Change Yourself…Change The World.


The Language Barrier
August 27, 2009, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Costa Rica

Dear friends,

Costa Rica is amazing. The weather is great, the food is delicious (especially all of the new fruit I have been sampling), the teachers are engaging- I love it here.

However, one big frustration is the language barrier. It has been much easier traveling in Asia than Latin America, for two reasons. One, I stand out much more easily as a foreigner in Asia because my skin is white. Automatically people assume that I am from the West, and approach me as a foreigner (there are many downsides to this- but this is one of the few upsides). Two, many people in Asia speak English. I have taken it for granted all over Europe and Asia that the grand majority of the people I have asked for directions, gone spontaneously out to lunch with, ordered food from, and had daily interactions with, have spoken English to me.

In Costa Rica, this is not the case. I blend in much more in this country, and while this is majorly positive, it does have it’s drawbacks. Yesterday I wandered into a shoe store just to look at the boots (I am an avid boot lover), and I was greeted by the saleswoman in rapid Spanish. I didn’t know how to say “I am just looking at the boots.” Maybe I could guess- it’s probably something along the lines of “Yo mirando los zapatos”- but I was nervous and didn’t want to be laughed at for my obvious lack of Spanish. All I could say was “Lo siento, yo hablo Español un poquito” (Sorry, I speak Spanish very little) and hurry out of the shop. I’ve suddenly gained an intense appreciation for immigrants in the United States that I used to get so frustrated with because of their lack of English, or even their lack of proper conjugation. When I was younger I automatically made this assumption that they were dim-witted (yes, this is wrong)- but it is truly REALLY hard being in a new country and interacting with people in a completely different language than your own. I get embarrassed and nervous interacting with strangers because I am afraid they will view me the same way as I used to view new English speakers (generally though, this is a very important lesson for me to learn). It is really hard to get a speech from your homestay mother solamente en Español while you’re eating dinner about how her husband died, and to be utterly confused and only grasp one quarter of the words- should I laugh now? Should I look sympathetic? Should I say I’m sorry? I settled for utterly confused.

Costa Rica really HAS been Spanish immersion for me so far. I have two hours of one-on-one Spanish tutoring a day. The teachers at the Global College Costa Rica Center try to talk to me in Spanish. My homestay mother only speaks Spanish. My homestay sister also tries to speak to me only in Spanish. I get home from school, sit in my room, and study Spanish. I wake up, go to the Center, and study Spanish. It is very confusing to be speaking only in Spanish, and to try to think in Spanish, but being able to only grasp certain words, so half of what I think is in Spanish, and half is in English. Half of the sentences I speak to my teachers are English, half are Spanish (and some are even accidentally Hindi or Tibetan, when I can’t think of the right words in Spanish but know them in another language). Por ejemplo, Yo am trying hablar en Español ahora.

Everything has become utterly Spanglish. Welcome to the next four months of my life.

Hasta la pasta,
Brittany


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