Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the Importance of Language

I have always loved language. I love the way that words sound; the way that a bold black font pops off of a crisp white page. I love the way that a well constructed sentence can evoke powerful emotions in a reader, how a cleverly quipped phrase can make the brain work overtime, scrambling to decipher the speaker's true meaning. I even love the way that letters are put together to form a perfectly spelled word (ahhh...satisfaction!) And while I have never been a strong speaker (this is a source of intense frustration for me), I dabble in writing and I adore reading (everything from classic literature, to simple road signs, to labels on shampoo bottles). I even visualize words in my head as I speak them (does anyone else do this, or should I see a therapist?)

And so, you can imagine my irritation at present; being immersed in a foreign language, not being able to communicate even my most basic needs, at times. I continue to study Portuguese with the use of the Rosetta Stone on my computer, and Marissa and I are going to a Portuguese class at the University twice a week. We even had a private tutor come to our house. This private tutor stressed the importance of not trying to formulate grammatically correct sentences, but urged us to "just speak", using the words that we already know. "People will understand you", she said. And so, I finally let go of my need to speak perfectly, and began to "just speak". Let me share with you some of the results:

My friend, Marly, invited me to go shopping with her. I readily accepted the invitation, armed with my new-found linguistic confidence. It was wonderful! We spoke to each other during the entire outing. I knew that I wasn't forming accurate sentences, but she understood me! And I understood her!! (more or less) By the time we arrived at the grocery store,  I was looking for opportunities to converse--about anything--not just merely trying to survive the inevitable Q & A of a friendly neighbor. I saw a flyer that said, "Hawaii" in bold letters. I pointed to it and told her I like Hawaii--that I had been there--that it is beautiful. She paused in front of the stack of flyers and said something that I didn't understand. After several seconds of unsuccessfully trying to make me understand, we decided to just move on with our shopping. I didn't think anything more about it.

After  shopping, Marly took me to meet her father and sister. On the way, she asked me if I like to dance. It seemed like a random question, but, after all, we were practicing our new communication skills out on one another.  I told her I like to dance, but I am not a good dancer, and that I like to dance when nobody is looking. She laughed and said she felt the same way. (I think) A few days later, Marly showed up at my door and  invited Tom and I to an event that I understood to be a dinner/dance. I thought this was strange, since I had told her I didn't like to dance in public. But I was happy that she had invited us to go out. It sounded like fun. She told me the date and said that she needed to reserve a table if we wanted to go. I told her I would talk with Tom. That night, Tom called her. Marly explained that we had gone to the store together, and I had pointed to a flyer advertising a Hawaiian dance event at a local club, and said, rather enthusiastically, "I like this!" So, naturally, she checked into it, and was now making arrangements for me to have my fondest wish. (Tom wants me to tell Marly that I really like golfing at fancy country clubs-- with my husband-- and see what comes of it.)

While driving to the store with Marly on that same trip, we passed by the hospital, and this is when I learned that she had been very sick all week. She had an appointment to go into the hospital that evening to get some IV fluids. She still wasn't fully recovered, but, here she was, taking me to the store. She apologized profusely that she had not been over to check on me during the week (she had sent lunch over one day, via her maid, and a bag of  ice cream, via her son). She felt genuinely bad that she hadn't gotten out of her sick-bed to take care of ME. I hadn't once been over to check on her (and in my defence, I didn't go over, because every time I do, she invites me in and feeds me, or offers to take me somewhere. I feel like the needy neighbor. I wanted to give her a break.) Now, I felt like a schmuck.

I went to check on her the next day. She was home from the hospital, but still not feeling well. I told her I wanted to bring her lunch the next day. She said she would have to check with her husband.  And then... she invited us in to have pizza. (Palm to forehead!) As she explained, mothers don't have time to be sick. Apparently, neighbors of pathetic Americans don't either. She invited another couple from across the street, as well, turning it into an impromptu neighborhood party. She ordered pizza, and of course, we were not allowed to help pay for it. The other neighbors said she and Marcio do this kind of stuff all the time. I left that night, forgetting to confirm the arrangements for lunch the following day. I decided I would just make something and bring it over early. (Lunch is the big meal of the day.)

Late that night, as I was laying in bed, going over the events of the day, I thought about what I had said to Marly. I realized that I had told her I would like to make her lunch, not bring her lunch, implying that I had invited her and her family over to my house to eat! There were a couple of problems with this scenario: 1. I didn't have enough ingredients to make what I had planned for both of our families. 2. It was General Conference weekend, and the first session would start right around lunchtime. (General Conference is a biannual meeting for LDS church members with discourses given by the general authorities of our church. It is a big deal, and we don't like to miss it. [And, by the way, we were able to get the broadcast live from Salt Lake City, via the Internet, and watch all of the four 2-hour sessions over two days--without any glitches! It was nothing short of a miracle, and a tender mercy for me!]) Anyway, Tom had to go down and disinvite our guests for lunch. (He is always cleaning up my messes!)

Last week, I invited my new friend from church, along with her daughter, to lunch. (Yes, I actually invited them to come over to my house to eat lunch with me. Or, so I thought.) I spent the morning cooking a special meal (with dessert), setting the table just so, and making sure that everything was in order. When I went to pick up my guests (they don't have a car), I found the daughter out on the curb waiting for me. I asked her where her mother was. She told me she was downtown with her dad to see the doctor. I asked her if everything was okay. She didn't know. I asked her if her mom was going to come over to my house after seeing the doctor. She didn't know. Finally, I took her back to my house, and used Google Translate to ask her the same questions. I got the same responses. I thought it was strange that my friend hadn't let me know that she would not be coming. I was worried that something was wrong. I asked the daughter if she could call her mother and ask her my questions. And so, through the complicated process of using the computer to type out questions in English, translating them into Portuguese, which the daughter then read over the phone to the mother, who, in turn, answered the daughter, who then typed out the responses, which I then translated... (confused yet?), we finally arrived at the conclusion that I would drive into the center and pick up my friend for lunch.

When we found her, her arms were full of purchases, giving me the impression that she had never planned on coming to lunch at all. I couldn't get her to get into the car. She kept telling me that she had to wait there--(Hadn't we just agreed that I would come and pick her up for lunch?!)-- I finally figured out (actually, I resorted to calling Tom to translate, after several failed attempts to communicate) that she was waiting for her husband to pick up some items from the pharmacy up the street. After a bit of waiting, we decided to drive to the pharmacy to meet with the husband. We pulled up to the pharmacy, just as he was finishing up his business. I discovered that he was going to take a taxi back home. I invited him to join us for lunch, and he accepted. (I hoped that my chicken and rice wasn't dried out or scorched to the bottom of the pan by now.) And so, a lunch date with my friend, turned into a lunch date with her daughter, turned into a lunch date with the whole family... My head is still spinning with that one!

I mentioned Google Translate in the last example. I revert to this method of translation quite often. While this is a helpful tool, it does not always give a completely accurate translation, judging from some of the English translations I have read. One time, I used it to send a Facebook message to the newly called counselor in the Young Women organization. I told her, among other things, that I was "excited" to work with her. Tom looked over the message later and informed me that I had told her I was "nervous" to work with her. Hopefully, she didn't take it personally.

I have decided that I will not let these, or the countless other mishaps with language I have had since arriving here, stop me from trying. (Okay, I HAVE given up a FEW times, throwing myself on the bed like a moody teenager, but I am now recommitting to "just keep speaking".) People will understand me...more or less...right? 

1 comment:

  1. You are doing amazing! That is great that you are getting the language. Like you said keep practicing and you will have it down in no time. By the was the Hawaian dance?