Bilingual is Not Enough

Robert and I are both fluent in Spanish. Reading, speaking, and writing this second language has blessed our loves in innumerable ways. But our Spanish has not help much during The Adventure in Asia.

If only it were that simple ...

If only it were that simple …

Just this week, while riding the scooter down a windy road, 7-year-old Thomas shouted into my helmet protected ears, “Mom, it would really enhance our experience if we could speak Thai!” He’s right. Not speaking the local language stinks! I know we miss out on so many layers of life, culture, opportunity, and understanding because we can’t communicate with locals beyond grunts, smiles and wild, charade-like gestures.

How I wish I could speak Thai!

How I wish I could speak Thai!

Here are a few incidents when I wished we spoke the local language:

Samoan 

  • So I could talk my way out of a traffic ticket – thankfully Doran is fluent in Samoan after having served a 2-year LDS mission in Samoa and handled this little problem with ease.
  • To sing with a voice of an angel as the Samoan people do in church, at a party, while walking down the street, while caring for children, or cooking or just goofing around.
  • To properly thank the dozens of Samoans who unselfishly cared for my son while he lived among them for two years.
Fun fact - only 500,000 people in the world speak this language and my Doran is one of them!!!

Fun fact – only 500,000 people in the world speak this language and my Doran is one of them!!!

English – New Zealand Style

  • I want that lovely New Zealand accent so I too can sound cool and sexy.
  • If I spoke like a Kiwi I would not have to answer questions about upcoming US presidential election disaster.
  • Cheering for the All Blacks rugby team would be a lot more fun if I spoke with an accent … And if I knew rugby rules.
  • I doubt the accent would help me correctly pronounce the seemingly-impossible-to-articulate indigenous Maori named towns, streets and sites all over NZ. 🙁
Waikatoregion.govt.nz

Waikatoregion.govt.nz

Malay

  • I would love to ask a devout Muslim women about wearing the hijab.
  • What language do aggressive monkeys who steal your temple offering speak?
  • KL Uber rides would have been much more informative, and could have turned into a free tour, had I been able to speak Malay.
  • Explaining to a doctor why my son’s foot is a worldwide medical mystery requiring prescription medication might have been easier in the native tongue of Malaysia.
  • Ordering food by pointing to pictures is always interesting 😕
Worldlistz.com

Worldlistz.com

Thai

  • To avoid getting ripped off yet again by a greedy Bangkok taxi driver and hotel owner.
  • If I could read product labels I wouldn’t spray myself again with room freshener instead of perfume!
  • Perhaps I might learn to appreciate the accent which right now only grates on my nerves.
  • Fully enjoy their wonderful, spicy food
  • So my kids could make friends at the pool, the park, or indoor playground
  • So I could tell the hotel night staff that my son threw up in the bed and needs fresh sheets.
  • It would be fun to praise and thank the barber who gave Robert the best haircut of his life.
Your guess is as good as mine when wondering what's on this Thai menu.

Your guess is as good as mine when wondering what’s on this Thai menu.

Cambodian

  • I’d love to better understand how my van driver survived the Khmer Rouge regime which killed more than 2 million people and forced him to seek safety in a Thailand refugee camp
  • Explaining to school children living in a stilt village that Thomas was offering to share his bag of popcorn, not give it to them.
  • So I could question the guy with three live pigs strapped on the back of his motorcycle about where he was going in such a rush.
Translated - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Translated – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

German, Chinese, Burmese, French, Italian, Tongan, Russian, Dutch, Korean, Tagalog, Swedish, Japanese, and dozens of regional dialects

I’ve heard all these languages, and many moreI can’t even identify, while on The Adventure. Some days I’m frustrated by foreign sounds and accents that grate on my nerves and I feel inadequate.  Other days, I’m enthralled by unfamiliar intonations and inflections and motivated to sign up for a Rosetta Stone course.

A whole section of how to speak XXX language books.

A whole section of language books.

As I said, I do feel super lucky to speak two languages.  Two is not many, but it’s more than one and gives me perspective and empathy for non-native speakers plopped down in situtations where words fail them.  I’ve often reflected on a nugget of wisdom imparted to me by a great Spanish professor at Brigham Young University. He was teaching Border Spanish 423 and, when challenged by a “proper speaking Spaniard” who argued this border language was not valid or “correct”, said, “Who cares if your Spanish is perfect!?!  If the people can’t understand what you are saying you might as well not be speaking!”

I should have kissed that professor that day because he changed my life with this simple thought – Communication is more than correct grammar, verb conjugation and sentence structure with fancy vocabulary words.  Communication is about sharing self – fears, desires, joys, emotions, thoughts, ideas, customs, likes, and dislikes – as we seek to understand others.

When words fail us, we resort to pantomime.  This charade usually ends up with both parties nodding as if we understand each other, but we really don’t, and that’s okay too. We just smile, shrug our shoulders, and walk away resorting back to speaking our own form of gibber jabber.  Words are overrated, communication is not.

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