Feeling Dumb in Three Languages

Another fun-filled week in Europe. Last Wednesday I finished up my first course, Intro to Counseling, and then the next day I went to Cologne for the weekend. I stayed with a good jiu-jitsu friend who arranged for me to teach at her academy on Friday and spent the entire weekend being a fabulous hostess and great company, along with her loved ones. I got plenty of opportunity to practice my German, to the point where by the end of the day Saturday I was barely able to think in any language. And yesterday it was back to Portugal, where I can communicate even less well.

I debated teaching jiu-jitsu class in German, but soon came to my senses, because that would have been a disaster (“Katastrophe,” “Ungluck,” or “Disaster” in German, according to Google Translate). It has been a humbling experience so far for me to try to speak different languages, both because I want to learn and it is friggin’ hard, and also because I am getting in touch with my empathy. When you speak English fluently, it is easy to take for granted that you will be able to communicate no matter where in the world you go, because so many people speak English nowadays. Obviously, that makes life easier for us United States-ians and British Empire types, but if we are not careful, we run the risk of becoming entitled.

So, this past couple weeks I have been reminded of how much work it takes not only to spit out simple sentences in a foreign language, but to actually live and work in one. With my level of language ability, I would not be able to do it. I would have to work much harder and immerse myself for much longer, and I would still sound like a child. So, to all of you in the world who speak multiple languages, take a bow. You keep people connected, you propagate different cultures, and you can say more swears. Noble pursuits, all.

This week I do not have class for my counseling degree, so now that I am back in Portugal, my goal is to have one adventure a day. Today’s adventure was to take the train from Cascais to the Belem section of Lisbon. Belem is known for many historical landmarks, as well as pasteis de Belem or pasteis de nata. I had planned to get a dozen or so to bring back to my roommates, but judging from the line at the bakery, it looked like pretty much everyone in Lisbon had the same idea, so I scurried away, pasteis-less. I will be back, and now that I know what to expect, I will bring reinforcements. I did walk around and get some pictures of the area, and I had two interactions in Portuguese. First, I asked an information guy where the pasteis de Belem are (“Onde fica os pasteis de Belem?”) and he told me “down the street past the Starbucks.” (Not sure exactly how you say that in Portuguese, but that’s what I pieced together, and that’s where the bakery was.) So that was basically successful.

Second, I bought some postcards from a little shop in the Cascais train station. I practiced and practiced the question I had, which was “Is it possible to buy postage stamps here also?” (“E possivel tambem comprar selos postales aqui?”) The man behind the counter answered me in English: “You need a post office?” I just went with it and said yes, and then he told me, in Portuguese, where it was. I immediately became exhausted and decided I would look for it tomorrow as part of that day’s adventure. So, that interaction was not as successful, though I did get my postcards. But if I want to mail them, I will have to figure out a new spiel: “Hello. I need enough stamps to send these postcards to the United States, please. How much does that cost?” (“Bom dia. Preciso selos postales para enviar essas cartes postales aos Estados Unidos, por favor. Quanto vai custar?” or something like that.)

That can wait till tomorrow.

Looking for ways to add some adventure to your life? How about some Abenteuer or some aventura? Contact me at valerie@valerieworthington.com or visit me at www.valerieworthington.com.