We use words to shape our descriptions, color our world, create things on a page.
What if your audience can not speak the language we use.
Here is the situation.
You are in a city in a distant land.
You have been separated from the group you were with.
Write a short piece about how you would communicate with the locals...
And none of them speak your language.
Oh and one more thing.
You don't have a translation book.
So here is my entry:
Where is everyone? There I was looking at the carpets in the shop and trying to decide which one to buy when everyone moved on. This is now going to be difficult.
“Hello, Hello, Can you help me? No, I am not asking for this carpet. I want to know how much is the carpet over there. Look I am pointing, that one – price?”
He does not understand a word I am saying. I give up and try to find the others.
“I am going to find my friends. You don’t have to come with me, and please put the carpet down. I have lost interest. Please go away, don’t follow.”
I wonder if I give him a push he realizes he is not wanted.
“I go, you stay” he just does not want to understand. Let’s try a few hand signs. “Where I am pointing I go. You stay here (pointing with my hand towards the ground).” The man is just nodding and still waving his carpet around. There is only one thing, run.
At last I got away, but this is getting ridiculous. Where is everyone and I don’t understand a word the people here are saying. Perhaps the children over there can help, they might learn English at school.
“Hello, have you seen any English speaking people in a group. No, I do not want to give you money for dollars, I am looking for someone. Look English money – you speak English. No the money is not for you it is mine, but have you seen people using this money?” This is getting ridiculous – they seem to be calling their colleagues and they are all looking at me with their large brown eyes and calling and touching me; nothing but away from this lot. Help they are following me. "Can anyone here speak English, or even parlez-vous français?" They only speak their own language. I am in trouble. Now run down this alley and hope they give up. Ow, now I have lost my shoe. No leave my shoe, it is mine. Or here take the other shoe and now a quick get away. Running without shoes is much quicker.
“Sorry” now I have run into one of the natives, but he is just laughing, not even annoyed and saying something. He is quite good looking, I think I will stay with him and see if he knows my language. Now he is pointing – I think he is leading me to my group. Oh no, he is inviting me for a drink in a roadside restaurant, but he has such a sweet laugh.
“Thank you, thank you, yes I am thirsty” He is still laughing, but he is saying something and all the people in the restaurant start laughing. I start laughing as well, perhaps it is a way of saying hello in this country. He says something and the waiter has come. Now I will be clever. “Look” I say as I am pointing to a coca cola bottle on another table, I want a cola. There you see I put up one finger and point to the bottle and then to me. The waiter nods, he understands at last. I have found someone who knows what I want. The man that invited me is nodding, he has also understood; success, but on no. The waiter is bringing everyone in the restaurant a bottle of coca cola and I have the bill to pay. Something must have gone wrong somewhere. Thank goodness I have money but after paying for the cola I won’t have very much more, so let’s drink it and go. My good looking partner is still laughing and nodding his head and clapping with his hands; must be the local custom when someone buys them a drink. The whole restaurant is now clapping and looking at me. I stand up, clap back, drink out my glass and go. I can still hear them clapping in the restaurant as I walk along the road, but at least I am on my own again.
And now to the local railway station, there must be someone there speaking English. I will ask the young lady with the baby in her arms.
“Excuse me, but can you tell me where the railway station is.” And she is laughing. So let’s try something else.
“You (pointing at the lady) show me (pointing to me and away from lady) choo choo (making noises like a train)” she is now laughing more but pointing to the other side of the road and signaling round the corner with her hand.
I bow my head (perhaps she understands a thank you gesture) and walk in that direction. Surprise, she actually understood my question, here is the station. We women always seem to find a way to understand each other, even if we do not speak the language.
“Excuse me sir” (talking to the man at the ticket office) “You speak English?”. He is speaking in his language as if I would understand every word, but it seems no English.
“Can I help you” said someone behind me. At last words that I understand, so I turn round. A teenager is asking me if he can help me.
“Yes, please” I say and he says “please, thank you, can I help you”
“No, please help me”
“Yes please, thank you, can I help you.”
My luck to find someone that has had two lessons in how to speak English. But I have an idea. I tell him “Hotel El Hammadi” and he laughs and he takes my arm and leads me still saying all the time “please, thank you, can I help you and throwing a “yes” in in between for good measure. I am so tired I just let myself be led and what do I see.
Now it is my turn to say “thank you, thank you” he has led me to my hotel and my friends are all waiting outside and are glad to see me. My odyssey is over I have been saved. We all greet each other, but my helper is still standing next to me.
“I think he wants something from you” said my colleague
“I don’t understand him and he does not understand me.” But my colleagues do. “Give him some money and he will definitely go away.”
I did as ordered and he said “please, thank you, can I help you” and smiling all over his face he went on his way.
The facet of the story is if you ever travel to a country for the first time, take an elementary course in the local language, otherwise you will have problems if left on your own and it could become quite expensive.
Writer's Forum Find your Muse #9 - Language Barrier