Trying to learn a new language is difficult. A whole new vocabulary needs to be memorized. A different sentence structure is used. New verb conjugation must be absorbed. As I am trying to improve my Spanish comprehension and ability to speak, I noticed a few things which reflect on how our language points to our views on life. How we express ourselves and how our language is structured affects how we interpret and see the world. Here are a few things that I noticed.
Speak Quickly, Express Slowly
As a recovering Type A, I speak (and write) very direct, to the point, concise, and usually unemotionally. Of course I see this as efficient. And it can also be viewed as cold, business-like, and robotic. When listening and trying to comprehend my Mexican friends, I would often get confused. One of the reasons is they speak quickly but express themselves slowly.
The only two things Mexicans do quickly are speak and drive, otherwise the pace down here is pretty slow and tranquil. The speed of their speech can make it difficult for someone like me. I catch every third word and then by the time I translate the meaning they are fifty words ahead of me. Recently I noticed something interesting though. They may speak the words very quickly, but they actually express themselves in the same leisurely pace they live the rest of their lives. Usually those I speak with will say what they mean, say it again in a different way, and then say it again with more description or emphasis.
The repetition makes it tough for a Type-A English speaker like me. I assumed because of how I speak, that the individual talking had moved to a new topic after saying enough in paragraph number one to get their meaning across. So I listened to paragraph two, three, and sometimes four trying to decipher the new topic or information provided and when I couldn’t find it (because it was not there) I would get confused. The speaker had not moved on quickly to new information. The speaker was still expressing, emoting, emphasizing, and educating on topic number one.
This difference in language usage reflects the two cultures. My speech reflects my being a recovering Type A so focused on task and making things happen that it is important to say something clearly once and then move on to the next topic. There are things to get done!! The speech I have noted in Mexico reflects their emphasis in connection above tasks. Those I have spoken to are not focused on providing information to complete a task, but are communicating the best they can to help me understand. It is about our relationship. It is about a desire to help me. It is their need to express themselves. It is a want to show the depth of emotion and meaning they have in the topic.
Inherently when speaking English we place an adjective before the noun, e.g., a pretty girl or small house. Most of the time in Spanish, the adjective is placed after the noun, e.g., una chica bonita o una casa pequeño. As someone learning the language, it takes a bit to get used to and I started to notice how it changes my focus. My native language emphasizes the adjective since it comes first. The descriptor comes first. The judgement comes first. Unconsciously we English speakers are taught to notice differences, taught to focus on our personal perceptions, and trained to judge. Inherently in the Spanish language, the object comes first. The thing or person comes first. How it is described is secondary. Personal judgement is not as important.
I am not trying to get into the debate as to whether or not Spanish speakers are less judgmental then those who speak English. But I would encourage you to look at your word choice and structure. What words are you using? How does your language express what you are focusing on? How do some of the unconscious ways you express yourself affect the way you perceive and experience the world?
Listen to your language this next week. What are you expressing and how are you expressing it? Are you being blunt and moving to the next subject? Are you using expressive verbiage to help your listener really comprehend and feel what you mean? Are you pre-judging others through unnecessary adjectives? Are you focused on the person or how you perceive them? Play around with your words and see how they change how you experience your world.