This weekend my Colombian in-laws met my British parents, brothers and sisters for the first time – an unforgettable experience for many reasons but particularly from a linguistic point of view. I realised (not for the first time) how crucial knowing a foreign language can be in order to transmit beautiful and meaningful messages, thoughts and feelings. Without this skill, these moments and experiences could be missed and replaced by a room full of awkward silences!
Among the eleven of us at this family reunion, we had three people who spoke both English and Spanish at least to an upper intermediate level, and eight people who spoke just one or the other. The two other English and Spanish speakers and I had our work cut out for us– from the initial greetings on Day 1 to the planned outings, and from the evening meals to the good nights, our language skills were constantly in use. While at first I was a little nervous and thought I might not be able to leave the families alone for a moment without having them suffer through uncomfortable silences, before we knew it we were all chatting away, doing some high-speed interpreting, sharing moments, making jokes and getting to know each other like I’d never thought was possible. Because of these initial translations that provided my family members with the means to get to know each other and feel more at ease, before I knew it I found my Dad and my father in law babbling away to each other outside – just the two of them! While they may have struggled from time to time, they were making gestures, using body language and trying desperately to pronounce correctly the few words they knew, allowing them to at least converse a little and do a lot of chuckling! Needless to say I ran over to help out anyway! We were able to discuss normal topics over dinner, discuss the history of England at ancient National Trust mansions and even tease each other and make jokes. I was also fascinated by how difficult translation and interpretation can be – sometimes understanding the phrase in one language can be so easy but finding the right way to express it in the other was almost impossible! As one might expect, non-stop interpreting was pretty tiring and so we three linguists took turns so we were able to rest our minds a little!
What did I learn from this experience? It’s really quite simple – languages are, without a doubt, the key to a vast quantity of experiences and opportunities. In my case, by speaking another language, my family were able to form a relationship with my boyfriend’s family – something that would never have happened if none of us had a common language. If you can speak another language, you can travel more easily, make friends and form relationships with people around the world, work and live in different countries, obtain many more professional opportunities and use a part of your mind that is proven to make you smarter and healthier. More importantly, it’s never to late to get started and see what the world has got in store for you – start learning a new language today!
Written by Evie Oswald, Language Coordinator and Spanish Tutor.