While visiting a quiet Catholic church in California with my girlfriend, I was turning to leave when a small voice from the only occupied pew called to me, “Excuse me, do you know how to pray?” A young woman sat with an older lady, in the middle of the otherwise empty church, looking to me for help. At first, I couldn’t understand the question, though it was clearly spoken by a native English speaker. How many times is one asked that by a stranger? As it turned out, the younger woman needed to know not if I knew how to pray, but if I knew any prayers in Spanish. It seems the older lady knew no English, and the younger didn’t know enough Spanish for the two to pray together.
While I know several prayers in English, a few in German, and a couple in Latin, my beginner-level Spanish didn’t reach this far. I knew that a working knowledge of Spanish would’ve been useful while visiting California, but I never imagined my ignorance would get in the way of helping someone else! I went away frustrated and determined to do something. Eventually I was able to find and return with some printouts of a guide to the rosary, available online in English, Spanish, and Dutch. Unfortunately, my preferred guide to the rosary is only available in English, and I had neither the time nor skill to translate it (although I do aim to have the skill someday!).
As I left the two ladies praying together in the cool, silent church and stepped back out into the California heat, I reflected on how dumbstruck I’d been by my simple lack of Spanish. Despite the saying that English is the global language, it’s not spoken by all, and it can’t be relied upon alone. How about you, readers? Has anyone out there had similar experiences with language difficulties? How did you get around that?
Learn more about Mike Hayes’s adventures in language learning.
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