Sometimes we can be at a bit of a linguistic disadvantage when traveling beyond familiar boarders. Read a blog post from a student serving in Honduras with HOI through Mercer On Mission that touches on this very thing:
“Having now been a small part of seeing over 1,000 patients, I felt like it was about time to step out and try to be my own interpreter. After all I had asked, via my interpreting friends, every coughing nino and nina to open their mouth (abra la boca) and stick out their tongues (saca la lengua) in order to check their throat. The process was simple as I would give a statement in English and the patient would magically do what I asked most of the times. So there I was eye to eye with my 6-year-old Spanish-speaking counterpart/patient ready to make to the leap from English to Spanish knowing full well that I was probably going to land somewhere in the land of Spanglish. As I pulled out my penlight and mentally debated on which of the two phrases to say first… I knew I had a 50% chance of guessing correctly, but then again I was never that good a luck. I then turned to my pequeno patient and recited “saca la lengua” and found the kid smiling and playfully sticking his tongue out at me instead of opening his mouth. At that point I joined the party that everyone else in the circle was already attending, that my Spanish was more for comic relief than practicality.
The fun that day did not end with that previous encounter though, as there was still a highly anticipated futbol match to be played after clinic. After finishing up my last patient I was greeted by the local futbol players ready to play. This game was going to be the real deal, so when it came time to pick teams we went old school and lined up with two captains. With each captain probably around eight years old and three foot two inches it probably should come as no surprise that my nickname quickly became monstruo, also known as giant to some people. My team started the game out strong and we had what I thought was an impenetrable defensive alignment until the first attack by the opposing team. I was too far away to help thwart the onslaught so I did what I could and yelled for my team to “espalda, espalda”. The Spanish word was one I learned this week in clinic. Espalda is the Spanish medical term for the English word of “back” when asking about issues such as lower back pain. This however does not directly translate to something similar to retreat unfortunately and my team not only became confused by my tactics but also gave up the go ahead gooooaaaallllll! In the end we had some great laughs with my new friends, which was well worth the price of admission despite it being my Spanish ego.”