Language barrier or the difficulty faced when people having no common language attempt to communicate with each other, was experienced by this island vacations enthusiast during my travel to Spain as a member of the 15-man Philippine Delegation to the Study Tour on the Development of Cooperative Integration in Spain. The study trip, which was conducted on April 18-26, 2009, was funded by the Agencia Española de Cooperacion Internacionale para el Desarollo (AECID) or the Spanish Agency for International Development.
During our pre-departure orientation held at the Department of Agriculture Central Office in Quezon City, Philippines, we were told about the various facets of travel abroad including the predicaments of language barrier. While the orientation was going on, I was feeling the comfort that the college-graduate participants at my age level or older were expected to commit lesser Spanish blunders compared to the younger ones as we passed a total of four Spanish subjects in college then embedded in the curriculum.
Our study tour included visits to different types of integrated cooperatives existing in the Autonomous Community of Castilla La Mancha (CLM) as well as in Valencia and in selected institutions supporting cooperative development in Spain. We spent 2 days and 1 night in Toledo City; 2 days and 2 nights in Albacete City and 2 days and 2 nights in Valencia City before going back to the city of Madrid where we spent the last night in Spain before flying back to Manila. At any opportune time of the study tour, I spoke in broken Spanish with our tour guide and chartered bus driver just to sharpen my rusted knowledge of the country’s language and hopefully lessen the impact of language barrier.
Little did I know that, on the 4th day of our 9-day visit, I could experience the epitome of language barrier which turned out to be one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.
It was April 21, 2009 when we visited the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (University of Castilla-La Mancha), Albacete Campus in the City of Albacete, Albacete Province and stayed at the Hotel de Universidad. After an exhaustive day, some of us got the express permission from our tour guide Ms. Katia Oceransky to roam around the city.
Our first destination was El Corte Ingles, a chain of department stores prominently present in major cities in Spain similar to the SM Malls here in the Philippines.
Because it was only two months past winter, the chilling effect was still very much evident, thereby causing me to urinate frequently as I have a kidney stone problem. Just as we were about to enter the mall, and realizing the reality of language barrier a foreigner has to face, we first brain stormed on the exact Spanish term for toilet. Alvin Paul Dirain, our co-delegate from the Department of Agriculture Central Office, threw out the idea that it must be casillas as the word sounds to be so Spanish same as tortillas (omelette), vaso (glass), tinedor (fork), kuchara (spoon) and other terms embedded in the Filipino language courtesy of the 333 years of Spanish occupation of the Philippines.
We then separated ways inside the mall as we had different items to buy. A few minutes later, I felt that extreme need to pee, hence, I hurriedly looked for a comfort room but to no avail. With the peeing sensation getting serious, I was forced to approach a salesman who was assigned in the men’s shirt section and greeted him: Hola (Hello) to which he promptly replied: Hola! (Hi!). Afterwards, I hesitantly asked: Amigo! Donde esta casillas? (Friend, where is the toilet?) Visibly puzzled, the man looked at me and said: casillas? to which I replied, se, se amigo, casillas. (Yes, yes, friend the toilet). With his two eye brows almost meeting each other, the man pointed to his shirt and said: camiseta? (a shirt?). I said no, no amigo, casillas. But the confused salesman, a victim of language barrier himself, just kept on shaking his head.
Just as my urinary bladder was about to burst that I decided to waggle my forefinger on top of my zipper and threw out an anguished facial expression as if I had just tasted the sourest of all unripe mangoes. Finally, the language barrier was shattered as the man got the message and said: Ah! Servicio! Servicio! He then gestured for me to follow him as he started to run. We were sprinting so fast that we created a furor inside the mall as shoppers were amazed at the two Olympic-like sprinters outsmarting each other to beat the 100-meter dash finish line until we reached a twin-door room with the left bearing the signage servicio por mojeres and servicio por hombres on the right. I entered the right door and poured all my urinating sensations. When I went out, I chanced upon the salesman standing just beside the door and, after exchanging thumbs-ups and a high five, our tempered smiles had bursted into laughters as we both enjoyed the language barrier episode unraveled earlier. Afterwards, he pointed his finger at me as if wanting to ask a question. I also pointed my thumb to my chest and said: Me? Filipino to which he nodded and said: Ah! Se, Se, Filipino.
Language Barrier – Lessons Learned
As my savior-salesman and language barrier co-victim was slowly walking back to his work station, I couldn’t help but picture out the face of Prof. Carmelita C. Lipio, my college-day Spanish mentor pointing her accusing finger at me. And, in a soft and motherly voice, she was uttering these words: Now you paid the price! Had it not been for your naughtiness in taking your Spanish 1 to 4 subjects in college just for granted, you will definitely not experience a language barrier with the same magnitude as what is happening to you right now.
Seen on the background are the centuries-old houses of the historic town of Castielfabib, part of the comarca of Rincón de Ademuz in the Autonomous Community of Valencia, Spain.