Thursday, January 8, 2009

Speaking in Tongues

In the past week I have been tripping over my words. My r's don't come out right, long phrases confound me, and Aztec street names have me shaking my head in confusion. But at the end of the day I know I can retreat to my blog, my instant messaging, and my American cohorts and know that my words will come out more or less as intended. And some day maybe, just maybe, I will pull it off in Spanish, too. 

But my host father has a stutter. While his Spanish is perfect and he tries his best at English, he will always trip over words. It is not a very noticeable thing. It creeps up on d's and p's and the occasional o. I'm not quite sure what causes a stutter, but the story he told me was incredible.

When Ricardo was a child, he went with his family on a picnic. They laid everything out on the grass and the two parents along with their eight children began to eat. Pretty soon a vaquero came along and told them that they had to move because his herd was coming through. They gathered their things and let the cows pass, and once they had gone through they settled back down again to eating their lunch. What they did not know was that the herd would be returning. Sure enough, the cows came back through again, this time led by an angry bull. All the children scattered and, as there were only two parents to eight children, there was only so much the poor mother and father could do. They grabbed children left and right but poor Ricardo and his sister, both very young at the time, were chased by the bull. He said they were so scared that they lost their voices. 

By this I thought he meant that he had been too scared to even scream. But he and his sister stayed mute for over three years. With both parents working there wasn't much they could do to help him. It wasn't until they put him in a special school that he started to speak again. The teacher would play the piano and he would sing along: "do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do," the same in Spanish as in English, and in this way he began to regain his voice.

Today, on his 60th birthday, he still has a slight stutter. He says that even now his sister doesn't speak much at all. With all this pressure to learn Spanish, I sometimes forget what a challenge learning even one language can be. So tonight, instead of speaking, we put our mouths to a better use: eating cake.

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