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Language barriers in Guatemala

Language barriers in Guatemala

Language. We all use it every day, and life would be really hard without it. But before using it, we have to learn it, and that’s where it gets tricky. 

I remember not liking languages in school at all, even my native language German. All the theory, spelling, grammar and strange words we had to learn came difficult to me.

So when I first joined OM Guatemala in 2012, I feared Spanish a lot. To my surprise, God blessed me with a great amount of wisdom, and I learned Spanish in just one month! I thought I was a genius!

But the Lord took care of that too.

A few months into my time in Guatemala, the team asked me to sing some children’s songs with little kids. I had never actually read the lyrics, but from hearing them various times, I felt sure to perform well.

To practice, I started singing in front of the other missionaries and, after about half of the first song, everybody started to laugh like crazy. They laughed so hard they actually cried!

As a “genius” who didn’t know what was going on, I got really mad and nobody would explain to me what happened. After minutes (it felt like hours) of great laughter, one of my colleagues told me what I had just done.

Instead of the correct word of an innocent body part (which was part of the song), I used a really really bad word (which was not part of the song, of course), that sounds almost the same. I was strongly advised not to use that word in front of the children.

I was so embarrassed by my mistake and had to realize that I still hadn’t yet completely mastered Spanish. And the reality is that, even today, after two years of using Spanish every day (my wife is only Spanish speaking), I make many mistakes.

Often, it is also hard to understand others and my ¿¿What?? face (see pictures) is well known in OM Guatemala. But I’ve learned to laugh at myself when I say things wrong and ask for help if I don’t understand somebody.

Languages are very important in missionary life, and we have to learn them. And if you think it is impossible to learn new languages, you are wrong. And if you think it is very easy, you are wrong too. Simply trust in the Lord. He will take care of you!

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