While in Mexico this past week, there were several things I did for the first time. Besides it being my first visit to the state of San Luis Potosí, below are four “firsts” from this trip. It was definitely a learning experience!
First time to act as a translator
Since I was the only one of our number who could speak Spanish, a translator went with us while we were in Mexico, who would translate anytime they wanted to talk to people. Since most people down there know Spanish, we usually had no problem.
I myself had never tried translating for someone, but when we were in Huichihuayán (pronounced wee-chee-wah-YAHN) at the preachers’ training school, I found myself talking to some of the students there while our translator was busy elsewhere. Then when a couple of the men of our group came up to join the conversation, of necessity I told them in English what was being discussed. Thus it came about that I would tell the one side in English what was said, and then tell the Mexican brethren what the others were saying, and so on, back and forth. It was great practice, and I think I did fairly well, though certainly not as well as our Mexican translator. There were times that I didn’t understand what someone said, and there were times when I didn’t know the word for something, but overall I was able to get the point across.
First time to pray in Spanish
Having visited the congregation in Chalchocoyo (pronounced chall-cho-KOY-yo), upon request we visited the home of a certain couple nearby who had started a new congregation that met in their house. At this time there are only four people in the congregation, but they wanted us to come pray with them for the continued growth of the church there and for their success in converting their grown children. We decided to do a “chain prayer,” and when it was my turn I prayed in Spanish, to make it easier so it wouldn’t have to be translated. Even so, the man’s wife was a monolingual speaker of Náhuatl, but we did the best we could do.
The next day, we visited the home of Nicolás, a preacher who preaches at several congregations in that area. He asked me to give thanks before the meal, so I did, in Spanish.
What an awesome thought, that God can understand our prayers in whatever language we send them, be it English, Spanish, or Náhuatl, because He made language itself and is omniscient.
First time to do linguistic field work
In the past several years I have had an interest in linguistics, and the work of the field linguist has always fascinated me. Here was someone who might go to a certain Indian tribe whose language had never before been written down, and listen to the native speakers, recording their speech and analyzing the language’s grammar.
While in the Huasteca (pronounced wahs-TEK-ah), I too was able to do such. Most of the people there are either Aztecs or Huastecs, and everyone I met knew their native tongue. Whereas the Náhuatl and Huastec languages have certainly before been studied, I took great joy in writing down words in these tongues so that I could learn them for the next time.
My “informant” for Huastec was a nice lady who kindly pronounced words for me as I wrote them down, patiently repeating them till I got them right (even so, I probably made some mistakes!). Luis Alberto, 19, helped me with some Náhuatl words, and I returned the favor by helping him a bit with English. I will publish all the information I gathered in a future blog post (Do you speak Mexican?).
First time to teach English
Although I have often found myself tutoring others in the rudiments of Latin, until this trip I had never had the opportunity of teaching my own tongue. While at the preaching school in Huichihuayán, I met a Huastec man (the husband of the lady who helped me with their language) who wanted to learn English. I showed him my bilingual Spanish/English Bible, and gave him a few word translations. He really didn’t know any English at all, so I’m afraid I didn’t help much. I encouraged him to keep on trying, though.
The next day I met Luis Alberto, who is taking English classes in school. He knew a little bit, so I was able to explain to him a few more complicated things about grammar. However, I didn’t realize how little I knew about my own language until I tried explaining it to someone else! However, I was able to teach him a few new phrases, and left him with a sheet of paper with some words to learn. I’m keeping touch with him through e-mail, so I hope he’ll keep studying English. I told him once he knows English, he’ll be trilingual!