The English language … sex for my ears

One of the things I both love and detest about the English language is that it is spoken to some extent, almost everywhere. It enables you to travel with the knowledge that a majority of the people you interact with, especially as a tourist will speak some English allowing you to get by. It almost makes it too easy to get away not taking the time to learn the native language of the country you are in – and this is what I detest about English.

Having arrived back onto the continent of South America I have quickly remembered just how little English is spoken here. In almost every circumstance I have been completely unable to communicate just what it is I am after. Be it ordering at a restaurant or asking for directions. And this is nobody’s fault but my own. One of my main goals during my journey through South America is to learn the language. Not to make my life easier (though this certainly is an attractive motivation) but to be able to fully understand and appreciate the people of this continent. With each interaction I can see with wisdom and experience behind the eyes of the person I am attempting to interact with (with an array of hand gestures and poorly spoken Spanglish) yet there exists a huge wall, built with the bricks of my unilingual ignorance. I cannot help but remain frustrated at my own inability to extract this wisdom with each and every interaction.

Learning a new language is all about immersion. Surrounding yourself by the sounds of the language at all times. However when you know so little of the language, it most certainly contributes to a feeling of isolation. So much so that when someone is able to speak to me in English, I have to resist the urge to tackle this person to the ground and inundate them with hugs and gratitude. To be understood is something that we take for granted on a day to day basis and only through travel do you really learn to appreciate a very basic life skill, the ability to communicate.

At this point in time I have accepted that the journey of learning Spanish is going to be a long and grueling one for a self-confessed ignorant unilingual Australian.  In the interim I have mastered ‘No entiendo’ with three accompanying facial expressions …

  • The ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand’ face
  • The ‘I’m so sorry I really don’t understand’ face

And finally

  • The ‘I’m so incredibly sorry I for my totally naïve lack of Spanish, I have no idea what-so-ever about what you are trying to tell me’ face

Like anything in life, the harder you work for something the greater the reward. So when the day comes that I can communicate even with a very basic level of Spanish I know the feeling of achievement will surpass any earlier frustrations experienced. And what I will ultimately gain is the ability to connect with my fellow human being in this continent I adore, which is absolutely priceless.

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