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Hola! ‘ What did you say?

My granddaughter stayed overnight with me at our farm last week. She showed up in a pair of purple pajamas with French words and pictures all over them. I asked her if she knew what she was advertising with her sleepwear. Being 7, she just thought they were a groovy color. She should have known better than to have responded in such a manner to her grandmother.
What followed was a two-hour experience in foreign languages. I am no linguist, so it took a while for us to get in sync with the language translation ‘app’ on my iPhone. There was a lot of repeating and a whole lot of laughing.
It is natural that our most basic interaction with strangers is a cordial greeting or a simple response to another person’s words or actions. Thus, the first words to learn are ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘you are welcome’ and, in the case of tourists, ‘where is it’ and ‘how much does it cost’. Pretty basic stuff, but not a bad way to remind us all of the common courtesies that are essential for a civilized society. We did not bother to figure out how to say ‘no problem’ as though we were offering acts that did not cost us time or money. I have always thought it is so rude to suggest that we were willing to do things for others only when it was easy for us to do. Real giving is always given at a bit of a cost.
We started our language lesson with a bit of usable Spanish. We will get to French another day. Kadie, my granddaughter, and I handed things to each other while repeating many times ‘hola,’ ‘por favor,’ ‘bueno,’ ‘gracias,’ ‘su bienvenida’ and ‘adios’. We found it took a lot of listening to each other and even watching body language because we were hearing new sounds for old familiar words. When we got to more complicated words, the old game of pantomime helped us out.
It wasn’t just my granddaughter’s pajamas patterned with French words that prompted my desire to understand people who do not speak English. I had just attended the play ‘The Foreigner’ that was performed at Hayswood Theatre. In case you didn’t see the play, it involved a man who did not want to talk to strangers because he was shy. He pretended to be a foreigner who did not speak English. With a common language out of the question, those around him communicated in a variety of styles which led to humor, misunderstanding and even some new insights.
This play was pertinent to Harrison County today.
With 1.5 percent of our population speaking a language other than English at home, we will be better off if we know how to interact with a wide spectrum of people. Our basic language lesson was just a start and it is time to get beyond the basics. We are more than a two-language society these days. In Indiana as a whole, the percentage of those speaking a language other than English at home is 7.4, and the number jumps to 19.6 when the whole country is considered.
We can no longer consider languages other than our own to be merely exotic words on our clothing. Likewise, we need to be able to do more than just greet each other and go our own way. When we expand our outreach, we discover what the audience at the play found out: people aren’t always what you expect and it is best to get to know them better ‘ hence, to talk to them. This applies to married couples as well as complete strangers at the grocery store.

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