September 19, 2013
Speaking Spanish

I’m at the point with my Spanish where 80% of the time I’ll understand 80% of what you’re saying. Multiply those two together and you get 1600% – if that doesn’t say “someone give this near-bilingual kid an honorary tan,” I don’t know what does. In other words, the likelihood of me understanding the neighbors is about the same as me being able to kill them with a throwing star – pretty good, provided they stand very still, give me several chances, and happen to be a hemophiliac. Well, at least the first two.

Outside of laboratory conditions, however, my ability to make sense of conversations is still fairly sketchy. If I’m talking face to face with you, fine – there are only so many replies you can return to my “Hola. The weather is very hot today, is it not?”

If I’m just background furniture to a conversation, though (given the option, I’d be an ottoman), there’s in truth very little hope for me. Assuming I’ve already used my favorite non sequitur, “Hola. The weather is very hot today, is it not?”, I have no way to slow the conversation into bite-sized pieces, and two minutes in I’m being dragged through the dust with a one-handed grasp on Buenos Días.

I sat in on a business meeting with a few classmates the other day. My new friend, Marine, a French foreign exchange student, sat on my right. Her English is actually quite good, but her Spanish, as she bluntly informed me, L’sucks. She politely asked me to translate, and I politely lied that that would be no problem at all.

The meeting began with simple introductions and I conspiratorially leaned over and whispered the English translations in Marine’s ear. This is actually kind of fun, I thought, and began imitating people’s voices to further enrich her audio experience.

Suddenly, the business people started using words other than “hello,” “my name,” and “is,” and things started to get a bit choppy. Did he just say abogado or agotado? What exactly did he mean by a lo bestia? Wouldn’t everyone be able to hear him better if he trimmed his mustache a bit? I started taking longer and longer to deliver translations to Marine, and soon enough the situation resembled a badly-dubbed Kung-Fu film in which the actors’ lips move for thirty seconds and you hear, “Yes.”

Needless to say, things were spiraling out of control. The conversation was getting faster and more heated, and Marine seemed like she was beginning to notice a slight discrepancy between the eloquent Spanish tirades and the four English sentences I had relayed so far.

I’ve done some things in life I’m not proud of (see post “Stealing Toilet Paper from My Host Grandmother’s House”), and this is one of them. Little by little, I kind of sort of just started making it up. Not all of it, let’s be clear here. I do have morals. But I won’t pretend that most of my translation didn’t begin to resemble “She says, ‘Our business … needs to work together … the reasons are many … that it’s in our best interests  for everyone to pool their resources, and build a company tree house.’”

Meeting done, hands shaken, and rolly-chairs pushed back, I think Marine got the gist of things. Perhaps she thinks these people are slightly more interested in airborne structures than they actually are, but she walked out of that meeting with a solid impression of the Ecuadorian business world. Me, on the other hand? Still stuck on Buenos días.