One of the things I love most about travel and meeting people of different cultures and languages is the learning that takes place within myself. Here’s a quick example of something I learned – something that I think I already knew, but didn’t really understand the vastness of until last week.
I was out to dinner talking to a few Brazilian students who were at a conference for architecture here in the States. Each of them were either working on their PhD dissertation or already a professor.
These were obviously some of the most intelligent people I have ever met – and each of them spoke English to a varying degree. I speak some Spanish, but no Portuguese, so we stuck to English. I began having a conversation with a Brazilian woman named Rosane. Even in English I could tell she was quite intelligent though sometimes when my vocabulary became too complex, I used a common expression, used sarcasm, or spoke a little quickly I could tell she didn’t catch part of my meaning.
After a while she mentioned how it was difficult to articulate what she wanted to say – especially regarding philosophical or highly complex thoughts in a foreign language. That’s when it hit me – the vastness of language and communication.
Here sits two educated people with the desire to communicate complex and interesting ideas, but unable to speak much above a high school level. I love Language and this fact makes it all the more interesting to me – what things can two cultures fail to communicate – what things carry over? I noticed an infinite number of both in the subtleties of our conversation.
I can’t help but wonder how intelligent these people really were. What would that same conversation sound like in English or if I spoke Portuguese. I imagine it would have been deep and informative.
There was a indie rock band playing so on several occasions I tried to explain the metaphor in a lyric, or the meaning behind the title of a book, geo-political issues, etc. Some things I could tell they were instantly clear on, other things truly are lost in translation.
I am ashamed at the level of English other nationalities speak and my inability to speak a second language fluently. I think my new goal is to really master Spanish. I’ve sat on the idea long enough, used it briefly in my travels, but how can I really get to know a person and culture without speaking their language?
Communication, in all its forms, is the key to understanding.