The Power of a Language

Maryanne Roughton - Ecuador


November 6, 2016

Most of my adventures in Ecuador have been incredible. (Note: being chased by stray dogs in the street is most likely not one of the more incredible ones, but they definitely lead to a funny story.) However, most have been followed by an unavoidable challenge— language barriers. More often than not, I find myself intensely trying to make sense of what I am being told, just to only catch "you need…" and let me tell you something, knowing that you have something to do, but having no idea what it even is, let alone how to do it, is not a good feeling. If it weren't for my awareness of body language and inflection, and my strange, but impressive, ability to mime (thank you Mr. Finn and theater 2), I probably would be making even more a fool of myself than I already am. However, most times I am not alone in this foolishness, which makes the embarrassment a little more bearable.


My very first meeting with all of the staff and volunteers at Fundacion Cristo de la Calle was possibly the most intimidating moment of my life. Currently, the foundation has a plethora of volunteers from France, Italy, and Germany. I am the only volunteer whose first language is English and I was nailing the role of "American Girl Sitting Alone Because She Can't Speak Any of These Language." The swirl of French, Italian, German, and Spanish conversations were delightfully overwhelming. This moment of sitting and observing the different languages in action is what created the idea for this blog post you are currently reading: how incredible is the power of a language? I can't understand one bit of French, German, or Italian, but we all are united through Spanish. (Well, with the help of dictionaries and patience.) 

One of the things I am most grateful for are the people I work on a daily basis. I am lucky enough to encounter German, French, Italian, and Spanish everyday, and it has got to be the coolest thing ever. (I mean, who can say they eat lunch everyday and overhear four different languages at once?) The best part is, we all love languages. Every day is filled with "how do you say… in Italian?" or "Is there a word for… in French?" Cellphones with translators are passed around as we laugh and learn about our different languages. The most mind-boggling fact for me is that we all are communicating through a language other than our first language. This makes the embarrassment of making mistakes almost fun to endure, because we all are frequently making them together. Thanks to Spanish, I have been able to form friendships and bonds that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to with English. And if living in a Spanish-speaking country wasn't enough motivation to better my Spanish skills, the opportunity to develop relationships with all the incredible I have met here is. 

Maryanne Roughton