Friday, October 18, 2013

maybe i need to become a polyglot.

In my calendar, I'd call the third week of September as language week. There were three days during that week where I was talking with people who spoke little English while I speak little of everything else. Thank goodness for translators!!

Day 1: I was talking with a group of Chinese scientists. I don't know how to say anything in Chinese except for thank you (Xie xie) and hello (Ni hao). Their host acted as the translator and he asked me jokingly if I could talk with the visitors in Chinese. Actually, this is the second time someone has asked me if I could speak a Chinese language; the first time, it was Mandarin.

Day 2: A group of Japanese media practitioners talked with me through a Filipino translator. The only Japanese expression I could say on top of my head is thank you (Arigatou). They did not request a discussion in Japanese so I didn't have to worry so much. They did, however, request that I talk in Filipino. That was the challenge for me: it's difficult for me to talk science using my native language. Again, this was the second instance that I was asked to talk science in Filipino. The first time? I was asked to consider the option of using the local vernacular.

Day 3: I was about to speak to African trainees when I noticed that they were not paying attention to the facilitator. While the facilitator was introducing me and when I started speaking (in English), I realized that I was in front of an audience from Francophone Africa... and I needed to find a way to catch their attention on the fly. So I greeted them with the limited French I know: Bonjour! Comment ça va? I knew that had some impact because the trainees began talking animatedly with me. Problem was, when the energy ebbed during the hour-long talk, I couldn't seem to get reengaged. Time for Plan B: the food and Bon appétit! That, I think, was the last of my French sentences. Luckily, I didn't need any more because they became active in the discussions again until my talk ended.

Despite our language barriers, I didn't feel the need to resort to non-verbal communications that curious September week. Nothing still beats the way I mimed with a non-English speaker in a different country when my cousins, my sister, and I got lost and were looking for our hotel. They found it so hilarious that it still draws the laughs from them many years after!