I have a fledgling friendship with Amalia, a Spanish speaking woman. Amalia is not fluent with english, and my Spanish is wobbly and crude. So we get together whenever possible to practice each other's native tongue, half an hour of Spanish, half an hour of English.
When we first started meeting, I saw a forbidding wall of words that I thought had to come down if a bond of friendship was to grow. The words that bring me such exhilaration and such rousing exchanges of ideas in English turned ornery and cantankerous in Spanish. Talking to Amalia, I was careful to bring up topics that I thought my Spanish could handle without too many searches through the dictionary Amalia and I kept between us like a life vest we had to share. Despite that, I often found myself staring at a wall of words, stranded in a maze, with the right words eluding me, defying me, mocking me from where they hid. The words turned me into a blushing, stammering nitwit. I used exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions. I got gender and number wrong much of the time, unaccustomed as I was to having to think about that in English.
I was embarrassed by my strong American accent and by the mistakes I made. When I tried to tell Amalia that I had eaten fried eggs that morning, she had to gently tell me that I was referring to male anatomy. I referred to elderly people in a degrading way. When I thought I was calling a male friend "embarrassed," I was saying that he was "pregnant".
Such is the wily nature of words. Still, I decided to earn my livelihood with words because I'm enamored of them, in awe of them. I'm usually a humble person near the bottom of the food chain, but words wield...
... middle of paper ...
...a and I even though objects, ideas, and feelings are expressed with different words in our respective tongues. I learned that words aren't just representational, though they are that too, but that they can also be catalysts. They can influence human interaction, even when the thing they represent is not clear or, more to the point, at precisely that time.
With Amalia and I, the words impelled us toward each other. The bond grew out of a mutual determination to knock down the language barrier, not from its having been diminished. Our act of tackling words signaled to each of us that the other was a person who wished barriers between people to be gone, not reinforced.
We grew close because of the language barrier, not in spite of it. The edifice of words was the bond. I'd mistaken its true form. It wasn't a wall; it was a bridge. And now we've met in the middle.
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