Sunday, March 20, 2011

Descent Into Babel

Yesterday morning as I rode the bus back from the nearby "big" town, Gran Tarajal, with my groceries, I listened to a conversation I had no business understanding - three local men conversing in Spanish, a language I do not speak - but I understood it, or the gist anyway.

And that is what I knew the language center of my brain is officially on the fritz and operating in "sponge" mode.

I spend my days surrounded by German, Spanish, and accented English far different from my own pronunciation.  After more than a month everything - and nothing - makes sense.  I have picked up enough German to get the point of any conversation being conducted around me, but not enough to respond beyond single vocabulary words.  I speak enough French that at first, Spanish sounds familiar, and with enough immersion, pretty darn understandable.  But again, I do not have the faculty to respond.

The most distracting is that I have started to hear individual words from one language while listening to a completely different language.  All of these incompletely understood languages are becoming one in my brain! 

Even my stalwart fall-back language - English - has not avoided a little short circuitry.  The Germans and Spanish speak English with accents and affectations, likely learned in school, commercials, and slightly-off but well-circulated translations, that now I have started to use.  Everything from sentence structure (verb at the end) to diction.  The room is "crowdy."  The floor is "slippy."  A workout is very "heavy" or "strong."  I know these are incorrect - the red warning light in my brain tells me so - but if using them is the best way to be understood, then so be it.

Non-native English speakers tend to have problems with gradation of emotion and general quantities, and distinguishing contrasting options.  A person is either happy or sad; there are no euphemisms.  "Many" vs "much" vs "more" are constantly interchanged, although it is easy to grasp the speaker's intended meaning.  "A lot" does not translate so I find myself using "very much"...a, frequently.  "Would you like this or that?...Yes...Well, which option you would like to do....Yes."

And now I frequently stop to think before speaking in my native language.  Not because it doesn't flow sub-consciously like a fluent language should, but because I have to consciously run my intended words through a filter to take out advanced vocabulary and turns of phrase, and break apart the clauses.  But even this filter is becoming a sub-conscious process...eek!

Essentially I am conversing with kindergartners in the bodies of adults.

Then again, when it comes to German, everyone else is conversing with a newborn in the body of an adult.

Talk like a pre-K German Yoda by the end I will.


schmonz said...

In a case of convergent evolution, floors are also slippy in standard Pittsburgh English.

Kelzie said...

A page view from the Venerable Schmonz!! Delivering trivia as usual. At least now I know I will be understood somewhere in the US.

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