Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Language Barrier

I'm quickly beginning to realize that this blog is turning into the travel channel so I thought I would humor both myself and everyone with an actual post about "living" abroad. Long story short, it is not all coming up roses all of the time. There is this period of five days during the week where the opportunity to travel to another city does not present itself and I have to deal with the day to day like most normal human beings. Being in a strange country, with a different language and culture though makes these five days a little difficult at times.

Before I left Canada, I didn't think that the language barrier would be a problem for me. I was so sure that my knowledge of Croatian, which is a Slavic language, would be close to Slovak. The other bigger misconception I had was that "everybody will speak at least a little English." Well I kind of struck out twice. Yes there are some words that are similar to Croatian however these are few and far between. Listening to a conversation, I maybe catch every twentieth word and lets hope this word has some significance to the central theme of the converstation. Usually I lose interest in trying to figure it out that I just zone out. Secondly, NO not everyone speaks English and expecting it was kind of foolish of me and a bit ignorant I must admit.

With this in mind, every day normal tasks become not so everyday. I was really disapointed that certain institutions like the bank, post office, or the "foreign" police did not have an english representation. When I went to open my account I had to have an AIESEC representative with me who couldn't exactly translate everything. Bottom line was "sign here." The funny thing is that there are signs in the bank that are posted in English. I also received a phone call from them the other day and when I expressed that "nerazumijem" (I don't understand) she told my co-worker that someone would call me back in English. Well we're still waiting on that phonecall. I'm not even going to allow myself to rant on about the foreign police because I could probably write a book about it. Moral of the story is that if you don't have someone who speaks the language to help you out then you would be hard pressed to get some of these things accomplished on your own.

Other tasks like going to the grocery store or buying a bus ticket or going out for dinner require you to speak some Slovak or become a professional pointer (sorry mom I know its rude to point!) Most of the menu's do not have english translations so you pick something and hope for the best. Luckily you'd be hard pressed to select something that doesn't taste well.

I've learned to deal with all of this by learnign some of the common words here and using hand gestures, and no its not the kind you are thinking of. You become more bold after some time and don't hesitate as much in trying to ask for whatever. The thing that I am really missing though is being able to communicate with people through everyday conversations. You know, the water cooler talks. I know I like to talk a lot and I'm sure Alex and my sister can attest to this the most but I also like listening to other peoples stories and it kills me when someone cannot explain what they are trying to say to me. I try guessing but that often leads to what I like to call the "I give up so I will agree with her ! YES." It seems to come down to that individual not wanting to feel stupid by not understanding so they just agree with what I say in an effort to get off of the uncomfortable topic. Really they shouldn't though, becuase I don't understand most of whats going on around me so we're kind of in the same boat.

At work, my two bosses speak ok English but sometimes I will ask a question and the answer will be something way off in left field leading me to the conclusion that he did not understand my actual question. Getting down to exactly what is expected of me also took some time. When I go for lunch with a couple of co-workers they talk amongst themselves and they will try to involve me as much as they can but I sit there eating my soup in silence, not being able to contribute. One guy that I work with seems like such a joker and I wish I could understand his humor. When my boss brings me along to meetings they always start out by saying; Blanka we will just speak in Slovak for a couple of minutes, and an hour later I am still sitting there staring off into space. Because I have all of this time to just sit there with my own thoughts, so many things cross my mind that it is borderline annoying. I need to learn how to meditate and just block everything out.

All of this is not wasted on me though. I'm starting to value knowing anothing language that much more. I'm trying to take advantage of the spaced out moments to get to know myself better. And I know that one day more important lessons about this experience will become apparent to me.


At 9:55 PM, Anonymous tata said...

znam da ti nije lako, i sjecas li se kada si u skoli kvitala French ja sam govorio da nastavis,jer kazu vrijedis onoliko koliko jezika govoris. Nisam znao da ce ti bas slovacki trebati. Drzi se dobro tvoj taaaaataaa. cao

At 4:44 AM, Blogger AbnerGadiel said...

i know how u feel, sometimes its so frustrating when u dont get what u ordered. like last time i wanted chicken n rice and i got some chicken soup mixed in with my rice....:( n i hate rice in soup, hahaha

At 8:46 AM, Blogger kent said...

Well written.

Tell me this: do you like the fact that you can sit on the bus and not understanding anything instead of being able to listen to people talk about stuff you'd rather not hear?

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Blanka said...

Actually Kent, I usually tend to listen to music and zone out for the remainder of the ride home. Its quite calming actually not listening to anyone period.


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