The Translation Engine
Day 020 – August 11, 2011
I am luckier than most folk who come down to Peru to travel or to live in that I already know a smattering of Spanish before I arrived.
My parents, in a fit of brilliance, enrolled me in a Spanish language course when I was…um…too young to actually now remember when it was. I’m going to go with third grade and they can chime in and tell me I’m wrong.
Growing up in Southern California as I was in the 1970s and with its large (and growing) Latino population, it was always helpful to have some proficiency of Spanish in your back pocket.
From that course onward (and the cobwebs of my memory are somewhat clearing and so I want to say that the initials of the outfit were PFLS…but that was over thirty years ago so who knows if they’re still in business), I took Spanish in middle school, high school, and for one year in college.
However, my joke is that my level of Spanish is just enough to get me in trouble in a bar. I know enough of the basics (some nouns, some verbs, not enough conjugation) to ask where the bathroom is, how much an item costs, and is the fish good today.
Because of my lack of complete understanding of the language, I find myself in an interesting position when in a conversation. I find that while I am chatting with someone and they are speaking in Spanish, I have to pay complete and total attention to what they are saying. I know this sounds a tad odd, but when you are engaged in a chat with someone, be honest, part of your mind is off wondering what you will make for dinner tonight, how the Lakers could improve their free-throw shooting, whether your conversation companion notices the fleck of spinach in their teeth, or whether you have spinach stuck in between your teeth. One hundred percent of your brain is not actively involved in the conversation. Enough of the grey matter is invoked so that you can continue the conversation intelligently, but not all.
I can suffer no daydreaming in Peru when I chat with someone and I have to use Spanish.
I have to give my total concentration to what the person is saying because I do not understand the words as they come out of the person’s mouth. My brain works overtime as it has to hear the words and then run those sounds through its translation engine. This has to happen quickly because while I am understanding the first sentence of what was said, the person is already on to the next sentence.
This is odd. This is difficult. This is quite hard.
I truly wonder what it’s like to hear a word a Spanish and instantly grok it without having to run through my translation engine.
End Side Note: The only other time I have had to focus 100% of my brain while listening to people gab was when I worked in Cubicle-Land and I would be designated as the scribe for meetings. When you are the one taking the notes during a staff pow-wow about the status of each person’s project, who will take what action, and whose turn it will be to buy donuts for next week’s get-together, you cannot wander off in daydreams for even a second…even if you know Metta World Peace can up his FG% if he were to shift his right foot just a bit while on the line.