The Power of Language

Jojo Guerrero - Ecuador

February 26, 2013

Where would we be without language? I remember sitting in Theory of Knowledge during my senior year of high school and discussing this question. After having a lively discussion we came to a conclusion. If language did not exist, life as we know it would not exist. The capability to give something a name or make words to formulate a sentence would not be possible; there would be no form of communication. It would be impossible to express what we feel or think. If man discovered new things, he would not be able to share what he discovered without language; thus, there would be no progression. We would not have the evolution of man, or the change from villages to cities.

I walked away from this class with so many thoughts in my head, but most of all I was thankful: I appreciated the fact that I was proficient in a language, the simple fact that I have the ability to form words into a sentence and tell someone what I think or how I feel. I knew that without language I would not be me—without it I would be nothing. Fast forward a few months and I am living in a small village named Capão in Brazil. I do not have a grasp of speaking the Portuguese language and I feel completely powerless. The luxury of being able to communicate has been taken away from me. I can’t tell my host mom how amazing her food is and how it reminds me of home or how much I appreciate her concern after getting into an incident with a neighborhood dog. I have become a helpless child once again, only being able to communicate through hand gestures and pointing at what I want.

Thanks to my background in Spanish I can at least understand most of what is going on in Portuguese here in Capão. However, I find myself answering most things with a smile and a nod because I simply cannot process what is being said and simultaneously formulate a response. Even though I feel as if I’ve lost every aspect of who I am I find reassurance in the fact that until now I have been able to get by with no formal instruction in Spanish: growing up I simply listened to my family speak it at home and paid attention to how things were said and spelled on television. I only hope that I can do the same with Portuguese. I am confident that I can accomplish this once again, once I am fully immersed in the family life of my permanent homestay. Before long, conversations will start to flow, a joke will be followed by understanding and laughter, and I will again find myself—only this time in Portuguese.

Jojo Guerrero