Sunday, January 31, 2010

29 January 2010 – Gracia

It’s hard to believe that I can’t speak the language of my city. I never really thought about this until today. For five months I’ve been living naturally in Cataluña, feeling comfortable and adjusted. Aside from some place names and a few key words (thank you, please, exit, enlargement), I know nothing of the Catalan language. It makes me wonder, is language really that important?

When I walk the streets of Gracia, browse the aisles of Condi’s, or ride the metro to class, I don’t speak, and no one speaks to me. I kindly acknowledge my fellow denizens, and they accept me as part of the community—albeit an unusual looking member of the community. Rarely, someone does talk to me. I don’t understand a word, but I can normally guess their intentions and respond with a nod or a shrug of the shoulders. If I have completely no idea why the person is talking to me, I just smile and look interested. This appeases my neighbors, and we all walk off with a smile.

When I first moved here, I planned on learning the language. How could I live somewhere for two years without speaking the language? I borrowed some Catalan textbooks from a friend and eagerly read the introduction, the history of the Catalan language. Once I got to the real page one, I lost all ambition and decided to let the books collect dust until my friend demanded their return. Perhaps I could have benefited from a few hours of learning the basics of the language. It could have been beneficial for when I read my utility bill, when I order a drink at the bar, or when a cute girl strikes up a conversation.

Language is insignificant in communication. We all share something more than a comprehension of some pattern sounds. Language is so irrelevant that it took me five months to fully realize that I don’t speak the language of my city, despite being fully adapted.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to read an anecdotal experience that supports the research that ninety-some percent of oral communication is nonverbal. Depending on how long I was immersed in a culture whose language I didn't know, I suspect I would miss the satisfaction of speaking, hearing, or reading the words that capture all the nuances of human thought. Do you ever feel like you're stuck in an English translation of a classic novel in Catalan: adequate enough to get the jist, but never knowing how someone who speaks and understands the language feels when they read it?