Monday, October 28, 2013

Bad language (surviving on pigeon Spanish)

Every day since moving here I am thankful that I had a basic knowledge of Spanish before I arrived. Now it's not great, and I'm sure my verbs and tenses are all over the place, but I know enough to get by.

It's strange trying to get your point across when you only have pigeon language. Often you have to go the long way round because you can only use the words that you know - so instead of rocking up to the school office and saying 'Hi, would you be able to talk to one of the teachers about the money for the extra books we bought?' you have to say 'Hi, I bought a lot of books and I didn't need some of them and I have this document that you gave me but the teacher doesn't understand and so can you speak to him?' Clunky no?

If anyone is ever learning a foreign language I can tell you now which words you are going to need most. Almost every sentence I utter contains the verbs 'I need', 'I want', 'I can', 'I have'. They do the basic job of most situations.  If I haven't included one of them at least once in each phrase then I'll probably chuck a couple of them in at the end anyway. They've been so good to me I'd feel bad if I didn't.

Of course sometimes the language can trip you up. For instance in Spanish if you want to say 'I am hungry', you actually say 'I have hunger' - tengo hambre. It's just unfortunate that hambre is very similar to hombre. Which means I have more than once announced loudly and proudly to the room that 'I HAVE A MAN!'.

Yay, good for me....

Still, that's not as bad as my father in law telling the post lady she was 'very hot'. Of course he meant to say 'IT is very hot'. Well, that's what he told us at any rate.

There's also been the strange episode of enrolling the 7 year old in Holy Communion classes. I worked out where the meeting was and what I had to bring and turned up at the noted time.

The meeting was packed with loud women calling to each other across the room and talking over one another. A priest gave a talk for about an hour about what I do not know, and then discussions continued for another 40 minutes. At the end 2 hours I queued up, filled out a form and handed over some money for a book that I understood would be picked up at mass the following week. Of course having dragged the 7 year old to mass with me on the Sunday there wasn't an utterance about it. In fact, three weeks on I still haven't heard anything about it. I now have a sneaking suspicion that I actually joined a totally unrelated meeting that I shouldn't have been at in the first place.

So that there's two hours of my life that I will never get back.

But worse than all that was the day I tried to explain away my daughters lack of desire to come over and talk to one of the school mums. As she ran away and hid  I did the universal 'sad face' and explained that she was 'muy embarazado'. I realised the mistake as soon as the look of horror crossed the other mothers face, for of course embarazado does not mean embarrassed, oh no - I had just told her that my 9 year old daughter was 'very pregnant'.

Having said all that learning a language is incredibly rewarding. Going in to a Government office, explaining what you need and understanding what they say back to you is a really great feeling. Not having to give that blank stare of 'what the f*ck are you saying to me' ten times a day, and using that other great phrase 'I don't understand' less and less means I must be getting somewhere.

And if not, well, who cares - at least I have a man right?

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