Friday, July 9, 2010

Talking to foreigners

One thing that really struck me the first time I visited La Casa was that the children spoke to me, and all others in our group, using the infinitive form of verbs. They did not conjugate their verbs based on the person or tense. (For example: Yo ir al cine. Tu darme una foto.) urrggg. This annoyed me because I had worked hard to learn Spanish, even taught Spanish, and I know that conjugation of verbs is key to effectively communicating in Spanish. I asked a friend from our group, who is also a proficient Spanish speaker and had been to the Casa various times, why children did this since they also spoke to him like that. He said that they were used to communicating with foreigners that way. Wow, I thought. That really reflects how experienced these children are with having foreign visitors, given they've developed a way to communicate with their guests who generally do not know much Spanish. It's like they've created a unique form of communication which they will use if you fit a certain category of "foreign visitor." What surprised me was that they didn't differentiate. In the case of my friend and I, even though we did speak with them relatively fluently--conjugating verbs and all, most children still didn't speak normally back to us.

The fact that they were not speaking to me normally in Spanish annoyed me even more on this trip. Maybe because I felt that I was being 'spoken down to' (even though I understood why they did it) or maybe because I've studied and taught Spanish and understand the importance of conjugation, every time a child would speak using only the infinitive, I would cringe, like nails on the chalkboard. Therefore, when they spoke to me that way, I decided to question them as to why. Most of them responded that they did because most extranjeros did not understand if they spoke normally. I would then say that I could understand them and could they please speak to me correctly in Spanish. Some did change their ways of communicating with me after I asked them to and others were so into the infinitive habit that they didn't think to shift themselves out of 'foreigner talk mode' with me. In that case, I would usually respond back by conjugating the verb or just ask them again if they could speak to me normally. I believe that as I live there for longer and blend more into their daily routine, they will become used to speaking to me in real "non-foreigner" Spanish :)

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