Thursday, August 7, 2008

Power of The "Mother Tongue"

For me, the thing that gave me most concern about relocating to Skopje, was the fact that I would not know the language. I had originally planned to take the language training with my husband, but the unexpected, yet very welcome arrival of Collier changed those plans :). At our previous posts language was not a problem--everyone in Doha and Luxembourg spoke English, and I am practically fluent in French, so I was comfortable with my ability to communicate. A few pleasantries in Arabic or Luxembourgish helped us blend even more.

I recall two incidences where I was unable to communicate in the local language, and I felt very anxious and uncomfortable. The first was our trip to Antwerp to watch Christopher's basketball team compete in a tournament. Apparently, the Flemish are incredibly proud of their language, and refused to respond to me in either French or English and I felt completely foreign. It was nearly impossible to even order dinner at McDonald's--and they are so universal! The second was during a routine trip to the military base in Bitburg, Germany, when I was rear-ended by a Spanish truck driver and pushed into a German vehicle. It was very awkward not being able to communicate with either, especially when the truck driver tried to leave the scene!

Language ability is truly a comfort when you are overseas, and not knowing the Macedonian language makes me a bit less adventurous in exploring the city. What if I have an accident? What if I get lost? I would love to frequent the Green Market, but until I learn the numbers in Macedonian, I don't feel I can or I'll risk paying $20 for a kilo of piperki(peppers)! Although I have learned many of the fruits and veggies, I can't seem to master the numbers! I find myself responding to clerks in French and sometimes even thanking them in Arabic instead of Macedonian! This is going to be a tough transition for me, but I am determined to learn this language!

Why does hearing one's native language immediately catch our attention? It is amazing to me how quickly we notice the conversations of others when they are in English. Our neighbors to the rear of our property occasionally speak English, and we find ourselves extremely curious about them, sometimes even to the point of eavesdropping--well the kids do. During almost every trip to the grocery store, we run into other Americans, many of whom we don't actually know. During a recent trip to a local indoor playground, I was approached by a very nice woman who couldn't help but overhear my kids speaking to each other in English. We chatted for a couple hours and exchanged numbers. It seems our ears perk up at the familiar sounds of English and draw us to whoever is speaking it! We have met some very nice folks as a result. My cell phone contact list is longer than it has ever been.

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