In a city where nobody can even pronounce my own name (‘¿Dawn?’ ¿Como abajo?) the language barrier has become a common occurrence in my daily life, one which I now welcome with open arms and, more often than not, a childish snigger. When I moved here a year and a half ago armed only with a Spanish phrasebook and, of course, knowledge of the crucial basics (dos más, por favor) I had no idea of the wealth of language miscommunications I would stumble across.
It all started in my first week in Barcelona when I went downstairs to my local shop. Determined to make firm friends with the shop keeper (I’d probably just heard about the ‘no buying beer after 11pm rule’) I picked up a bag of Cheetos and placed them on the counter, he asked how I was; I was tired, and sure in my misplaced confidence that I could communicate that, I looked at him, (which, on reflection, must have been with patronising eyes) told him I was married, paid up and tottered off. He never tried to speak to me again after that, possibly due to fear of my imaginary, controlling husband, possibly because he thought I was a presumptuous, stuck-up cow, but either way I always had to make sure I bought my beer before 11pm.
It’s a well-known statistic that 93% of ridiculous language miscommunications in Barcelona come from my own mouth, however, this does leave the odd occasion where it can happen to other people. In a Spanish class my friend managed to tell her language teacher that she keeps her penis in the bathroom cupboard and combs her hair with it every morning. Almost as embarrassing as the time I accidentally told my own Spanish teacher that my housemate had shown me his balls (I still don’t have a clue how that error even came about.) (I’d also like to clarify that that never happened.)
Ridiculous language errors also extend to the EFL classroom. Being the cool teacher I am, I one day decided to do a text message language lesson with my eight year old Catalan students (look kids, your teacher knows what a text message is, qué chulo, no?) I printed off a super guay worksheet with text message codes and handed it out to them expecting immediate praise and admiration from the little angels (who’s needy?). Now, everyone knows what xoxo means, kiss, hug, kiss, hug (My Nan had that old thing circulating Liverpool before Gossip Girl was even a single cell) and that’s exactly what it means everywhere in the world, except Catalunya, where in fact it’s a childish word for vagina. All I got was a bunch of giggling kids who couldn’t quite believe that I’d given them a worksheet with fanny scrawled all over it. That’s what you get for trying to be cool apparently. Thanks Gossip Girl, thanks Nan.
So that’s a language barrier for you, an extra special something which can end every conversation with a red face and a mumble, but I have to say life with language barriers has provided a lot more laughs. Whether it’s accidentally basing your English classes around fannies, or shunning shop keepers into never talking to you again it certainly adds a certain je ne sais quoi (sheer embarrassment) to all your conversations. And without sounding super cheesy, putting yourself out there without fear of making mistakes really does help you learn the language. I know now that if I do ever want to tell somebody that I comb my hair with a penis, or even more unlikely, I get married, I’ll definitely be able to communicate it the next time I forget to purchase my beer before 11pm.