The word gusano in Spanish is generally used interchangeably to mean a caterpillar or a worm. Of course Spanish has more technical or scientific names for these two very different creatures, but on a day-to-day basis—unless you’re describing a person (and that’s a whole different topic), you would use the same word for both creatures.
I had never given this detail a second thought until the other night when I read to Elenita the Eric Carle book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”—over and over and over.
Now imagine her face when I accidentally called that caterpillar a worm! Needless to say, it won’t be long before my Elena starts correcting my words.
The fact that English is my second language is never too far from my awareness. Not because I don’t consider myself proficient in English—sometimes even more than in Spanish!
But, like the character Ziva David in the popular TV show NCIS, the problem is that there’s a plethora of English phrases that don’t make sense to me (I’m collecting a list of those for a separate blog post!).
Add to that the fact that, even though I can spell them perfectly, I will constantly mispronounce words like “salmon,” “cemetery,” or “chutney,” yes, after all these years! By the way, my family can come up with a list of examples at lightening speed.
The reality is that some things will always be clearer and more beautiful for me in my first, and in a very real way, my native heart language—for instance, poetry, Bible verses, or a Gloria Estefan song.
When praying with Scripture, it is not unusual for me to seek not only a different translation, but also the Spanish version. I can’t explain it other than to say that I can tell that I’m missing something in the nuance of the English verse, and then I see it clearly when I compare it to the Spanish.
Ultimately, however, I credit my language issues with providing me with a keen attention to and understanding about how I use words—and how important particular words are for true and intimate communication.
Having to think in two languages makes me notice—and that’s a spiritual practice that I strive to continually develop.
But honestly, please don’t ever ask me to pronounce dachshund or Schwarzenegger. I’m scarred for life.
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Speaking of words, my good friend, editor and poet Jeff Hensley has a new site where he is publishing online his poetry, called words-words-words--poetry. Check it out here.