“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” August Rodin
Many of the mistakes made in a new language are often funny–the speaker’s intent and what is said may be totally unrelated. Here is a different kind of incident that happened when we lived in Sao Paulo. What we saw went beyond humour; in this case understanding came about in spite of different languages being spoken and not well understood.
It occurred when we were taking care of the two Huston boys that lived in Paraguay. The whole family took the arduous trip to Brazil for a conference; after that the parents wished to take a week’s holiday in Rio before returning to Asuncion. Since we had children about the same age, we invited them to stay with us. The boys spoke English since that was the language of their parents. They would also have spoken Guarani, an indigenous language that is one of the two languages of Paraguay. The other of course was Spanish. So those lads would have been well acquainted with three languages.
Our children spoke English with us as parents while at the same time they attended school in the Portuguese language. It seems a bit humorous now but if we as parents wanted to be sure they understood what we were saying, we used Portuguese. As our family chatted we often spoke a mixture of both languages for sometimes one language had a word that would say it better than another–a conversations in two languages.
At that time a German family lived across the road from us and of course their family language was German. Since their two boys went to a Brazilian school they would also speak Portuguese–that of course means they were fluent in two languages.
So when our son Vernon took the two Huston boys across the road to play at the German family home, they together spoke a total of six languages. Interestingly, they were able to play together without any fights and very little confusion. Somehow intentions and actions were clear in the minds of each one even though the language that was being spoken was not well understood. I suppose they might have shifted from one language to another trying to make some aspect of a game clear—but perhaps the language was less important than the attitude.
There was something else going on. Even in those few hours of play each learned words they had never come across before. You see, children have the rich capacity to acquire many languages simultaneously. It has been concluded that language development is like other forms of growth and the critical period for learning languages is from birth to puberty. A child may pick up four or five languages with no awareness of one being difference from the other. They simply know to use a different one in each differing social situations.
It was a marvelous thing to see—five boys speaking a total of six languages getting along so well. What a pity that in the adult world, even when we understand another’s language, it is so easy to misinterpret the words and often have a battle over little substance. Of course wars occur all the time around our globe between countries, racial groups, religions and even in homes while the onlooker wonders why communication and patience might not solve most problems.
Could it be those children developed antibodies in their systems that helped them play together in peace? If that were so, how good it would be if we could get a similar vaccination, perhaps from those children. We might then go out into the world to live at peace.
At this point there comes to mind the words of Jesus who said that we need to become as little children to be able to be part of his Kingdom. I am sure He was not referring to the conflicts children sometimes stir up but to those times of peace and cooperation he must have noticed among children. With his perspective he would have understood how those children played so well in that home across the street. Certainly while here He was setting the pace for all of us who wish to be his followers—that is become as little children. Those five boys I’ve mentioned set the pace for all of us.