Coming into this trip, I was pretty confident with my ability to speak Portuguese. After all, I knew how to say please, thank you, and hello. What could possibly go wrong? I suppose I forgot that real people speak faster than the voices on Babbel and hand gestures aren’t as effective in conversation that goes deeper than food. What was I supposed to do when there are no translators around?
As I panicked internally, my family and those at the college didn’t show a single concern for this supposed language barrier. Instead of words, they used emotion, facial expressions, and sound effects. Unlike my inner honors student, when something was not understood, they did not show frustration. They showed patience and humor. They were just as excited to work towards understanding as they were to finally understand. This is definitely a skill I could stand to learn.
When this fear had ceased, another arose in its place. Sure, these adults would be patient and loving on us, but what about children? Could I really expect those who are just starting to understand the structure of their own language to want to work towards understanding mine? What was I going to do for hours in a compact space with children of a tongue other than my own? I did not think it possible, but the kids might have been even more patient and ready to work to understand each other. My group of kids was super excited to show off their knowledge of colors in English as we played Twister.
This language barrier – the thing I thought would hold me back from enjoying my experience the most – has ended up bringing me closer to those I have encountered. The joy in the eyes of someone who has successfully gotten a thought across to me (sometimes this is even Erv, Julie, or Kirsten) never gets old. While I would absolutely love to be able to carry on a conversation in Portuguese like it’s nothing, for now I am content with working together towards understanding.