Honduras 2004 - Tower of Babel

DEC. 27—After spending a year in Honduras, living with a native family and attending the local high school, I returned to the States essentially fluent in Spanish. I didn't speak quite as well as a native, but I dreamed in Spanish and found it difficult to speak English for the first week after I returned. Even now, I often instinctively curse in Spanish when someone suddenly cuts me off on the freeway, or find it easier to express some things in Spanish instead of English.

This time, therefore, I didn't have the same nervousness about the language barrier that I had on my first visit to this country. I practiced my Spanish facility over the years, and had recently been tasked with translating one of my company's software products from English to Spanish.

That's not to say, however, that it's been smooth sailing for the past four days. Practicing one's Spanish abilities on occasional forays into Baja California and composing emails to Spanish-speaking friends isn't the same as being dropped into the metaphorical deep end of the language. I've gotten along just fine, and have been able to express myself well enough (except for my mangling of the language with my thick gringo accent). But in group converations, sitting and listening as others rapidly talk back and forth, I have found myself taking in only about half of what is actually being said. In practice, that is generally enough to follow the conversation, but at times I've found myself falling behind one or two topics of discussion. That is, I know (more or less) what's being said, but as I follow along, I suddenly realize the subject of conversation changed a few minutes back, and I'm still thinking about the previous topic.

In this manner, I have observed more than I've participated, at least for this initial period, as I get my feet wet again. And at times, I've felt like I'm standing atop the Tower of Babel, as I listen to a conversation about people, places and things that I wouldn't have a clue about even if the conversation was in English.

For example, Karla brought me out to a birthday party with a group of her friends. I got along fine, but at several points in the conversation, I completely lost track of what was being said. When I picked up the threads again, I realized I still didn't understand what the hell they were talking about—not because I didn't understand the language, but because they were talking about something that had happened to one of their other friends that I didn't know, in some place I wasn't familiar with.

So far, the language barrier hasn't been more than a language speed bump, but it has at times proven to be a bit difficult. In some social settings back home, I am uncomfortable meeting and talking with new people. Imagine those same situations, but everyone speaks a different language. It has thus sometimes been a challenge—but a fun challenge.

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