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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Linguistic Flavors: Take off your boots!

Apparently a lot of people forget the no liquids rule here.

My husband and I were in the airport, going through security. I've traveled a lot.  I like to think that I'm kind of a travel/airport pro. 

// Cue: The sense that you often have when you are learning a foreign language that you are the farthest thing from a pro in any given thing when language is required to complete or process the thing.

Airport security employee:"Pani, idete ako do roboty"

This is the phrase that my brain came up with as possibly the most logical result of the strange words I heard. Kind of like the keyboard on your mobile phone that guesses what word you were most likely trying to type.

In this moment of my perceived airport security knowledge, my brain did a quick scan of possibilities.

Brain: Hmm, those words are not familiar.  Let's figure out what he said.

You've put everything on the belt to go through the scanner, so next step is to walk through the human scanner.

No one else is taking off their shoes, so he must be telling you to go through the scanner.

Me: But I don't understand the words.

Brain: Boty, roboty, that sounds close.

Perhaps there's a phrase in Slovak like "go on through just like if you were going to work". 

Me: Sure. Ok.

I kind of smile at the airport employee and start walking towards the human scanner. Hoping that I can fake understanding without really understanding.

Nope. Not what he said. He says the phrase again.



Maybe that's my boots.

I point at them.

Brain: Aha! That's what he said! "Pani, dáte dole boty." Please take off your boots.

He nods and asks if I have anything else on my feet that he might be referring to.

// Cue: The sense you often have as a foreign language learner/speaker that the person you are interacting with quite possibly thinks you are an idiot. 

Me (inside): Oh. No. Nope. I don't. I just don't speak your language. Therefore, even the simplest words (to you) are sometimes incomprehensible (to me).

There's a twinge of embarrassment. A glimpse of shame.


Why do I feel shame?

I've learned a new language and submitted myself to constant potential humiliation and misunderstanding. That's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it's quite brave.  I would tell anyone else in a similar situation that. And I am learning to tell myself: "Johanna, you're pretty brave." "Johanna, that's pretty funny what your brain came up with. It made no sense, but in some ways it was pretty clever." "Johanna, now you know a new phrase. A new word is better stored in your brain. One small step for the continuing saga of Johanna mastering the language of Slovakia." 

Reframing our experiences can be hard. Especially when we feel tired, hurt, vulnerable, and like an outsider. But when I imagine the hundreds of thousands of people who attempt to live and communicate in a language that is not their own, I know it is possible.With grace and kindness and laughter - for myself and others - this language adaptation can be positive, pleasant and successful.

*successful as defined not by being perfect and understanding 100%, but successful as defined by one continuing to try to understand and live in the difficulty of uncertainty and misunderstanding. 

So, take your boots off, sit back and take some time to reframe your current circumstance that feels overwhelming or impossible.  

1 comment:

  1. Well put and yes you are brave and still have a great sense of humor and your writing is the best and insight into how to live and what is going on in our global world. Unlike this run on sentence