Speak your language

There are moments in time when it amazes me how much language affects life.  It’s not only a form of expression, but contains vocabulary that specifically pertains to the culture it depicts. I notice this the most during the time I’ve spent here in Albania. Speaking Albanian here expresses a part of me that’s hardly exposed back home. It’s hard to define accurately what it is exactly – it could be words used to describe someone’s shortcomings, communicating with family members I had around me growing up, expressing how good a well-cooked meal tastes, or how strongly I care for my loved ones. Here it’s not only words that I use differently, but the manner in which I use words. Oftentimes, people speak in command, meaning, rather than requesting, suggesting, or asking permission for something, they tell you what to do, how to do it, and if you’re doing it wrong, and there’s usually no harm associated with it. 
When I first got here and was approached in this manner I started to take it personal and react with a: “Who are you to speak to me that way” sort of face. Then I remembered that this is a collective community where people are always around each other, affected by and observed by one another, living in close perimeters. To speak this way in English sounds intrusive, dictatorial and overbearing, but in Albanian, normal and expected. Trying to speak English to someone during my daily routine here seems phony and atypical because it’s not indicative of reality, nor can it properly define feelings, actions, thoughts, mentality, or objective. When I come across someone who discovers I live in the States and wants to speak English with me, there’s a feeling of uneasiness that builds up because…… I don’t know, it cannot properly express my surrounding environment and it somehow feels distant.
Almost on a daily basis I’ve been in communication with Dr. Love via Skype and as I begin my stories explaining my adventures, I realize that I’m actually communicating maybe 60% of what is really taking place. It’s part unfamiliarity of the country on his end, partly language barriers in finding the correct translation of words, and part cultural differences that have to do with the people here and what typically tends to happen. I sometimes end up correcting myself when we talk because as I’m describing something I use Albanian words to visually explain something. Curiously enough, interactions such as these encourage me to travel more, learn, explore and continue placing myself in new situations. On the other hand, as easy a time as I have communicating with others in daily interactions using the local language, when it comes to reading and engaging in formal topics related to my internship, I’m always on the lookout for an English translation because I have a better comprehension of my field in my other native language. Translating Albanian to English during those moments takes me longer and at moments I lose sight of the meaning, so there are moments in time when one language proves to be more user-friendly than the other.
When I think having kids of my own and wondering what are the first words I will teach them, there is a part of me that wants to communicate in Albanian, partly because that was the first language I learned, and partly because it communicates a part of me that’s not always expressed. I think teaching him or her both English and Albanian can allow them to explore and identify with the two of us, not to mention an easier time communicating when they come here for a visit!

To keep things visual, here are a few pictures taken around town:
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6 thoughts on “Speak your language

  1. Even though I am not well travelled, I can still say that I understand the language and cultural barrier. Moving to the South I noticed this almost instantly and often at work I have to think about the way what I'm saying is being received and the fact that I'm not speaking to a New Yorker. I've been told I can be harsh at times when in reality I've just being straight forward and getting to the point. I've also seen sarcasm taken the wrong way as well.It is so very interesting how much culture is in our conversations.

  2. I've experienced this in small doses as well. Spent a semester abroad in Austria during college and the most well-meaning of persons there can come across as domineering and snobby when heard with U.S.A-born, native English ears. I wish I were bilingual. I think it's such a gift for children to have that option. However, I've also seen some friends try to force the language on them, and the kids end up confused and angry. I think exposure is key, and you have a firm/clear understanding of that.

  3. It is so interesting to think about particularly because I haven't lived in two languages before. I've traveled for brief periods of time but I imagine it is entirely different for someone who has lived immersed for periods of time in different languages. I think often about how language frames knowledge and cultural understanding, systemically. And it sounds like you are experiencing that first hand. The photos are amazing and I am glad you are sharing them here. You look beautiful!

  4. Ha-ha! Dea, What a fund and interesting read. I have determined that I should have been Albanian. Your description of how Albanian's tell each other what to do, and how to do it, perfectly describes. Sometimes those close to me don't understand that I know the best way to get it done. And If I don't, I bow to those that do. It must be entertaining to watch conversations between Albanian's. The city looks as fabulously diverse as the people sound.I enjoyed your photo's. You are beautiful in your Twinkle, Twinkle Dress. Or is that the Vappu Dress. I don't have either, so I'm not entirely sure.

  5. It is so interesting to think about particularly because I haven't lived in two languages before. I've traveled for brief periods of time but I imagine it is entirely different for someone who has lived immersed for periods of time in different languages. I think often about how language frames knowledge and cultural understanding, systemically. And it sounds like you are experiencing that first hand. The photos are amazing and I am glad you are sharing them here. You look beautiful!

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