Friday, February 26, 2010

Speaking other languages

I’ve been manning the booth for the kids library I work with at the Book Fair this week. It is excruciating. Just the kind of Spanish that is really hard for me. O-60 mph. I'm fine once I get comfortable, but I have a flood of panic anytime someone I don't know speaks to me in any language, even my own. Same words messed up over and over. Do you conocer a library or saber one? Every time I muster my courage to say something to the young folks working the booth for Libros para Niños, they say what? And I say it more slowly, again and they might be able to figure it out. Truly I’m NOT that bad of a Spanish speaker.

I hardly ever conjugate a verb right, and almost every word I say is slightly wrong. I speak Spanish like it was written in Hebrew and I am reading it without the vowels. I sounds good to foreigners, but is unintelligible to natives. These natives are like certain US citizens in isolated communities (if there is such a thing anymore) They can’t understand anyone with an accent. They just hear the words a little funny and switch off. I have been on the other end of that one so often that I know what they are going through. Fortunately, I still have some time to work on this.

I like being in the midst of the flow and cross of languages. Almost all of the visitors here from US and Europe speak Spanish and English too. Today I was talking to a young German woman, I started out in English then we mixed in some Spanish and upon learning that I spoke German we switched to German. Just for fun, because clearly she spoke English better than I spoke German. But as someone who spoke all those languages, she understood that I really wanted to try to speak German. But it is really funny now. I speak German briefly maybe once a week. It is really hard to keep my brain from switching to Spanish. One because I am talking about things that happened here and two because it has just moved to the top of the foreign language pile. Nearly everyone I am speaking German to speaks Spanish so they don’t even bat an eye or look confused when I throw in a Spanish phrase.

But the funny thing is that I don’t notice I’ve done it until after I’ve said it, and then the Spanish word is right on top and I focus on finding the German word and it is hard to find. Also funny when I speak German to someone who doesn’t speak Spanish and incomprehension flickers in her eyes when I throw in really simple Spanish words that just pop up. Because it isn’t the normal words one uses in place of the language one is speaking in like nouns or adjectives. It is more likely to be little words like but, very, much, because. Then once I have said a few words in Spanish, it is like turning a car with bad steering, I’m leaning and turning the wheel toward German, but it keeps going straight toward Spanish. Oddly, English never mixes in. That would be the normal thing. To automatically throw in one's native language.

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