Learning the language of Spain (that is, “Spanish”) is much easier than learning the language of Indonesia (that would be “Indonesian”). This might seem obvious. But really it’s not as obvious as it may seem, and it’s not obvious for the reasons we all might think.
First of all, picking up Spanish is easier because, if you reach back to what you learned in high school, it’s a Romantic language. Communication is comunicación, etc. So, yes. We English and Spanish speakers have a lot in common. However, Bahasa Indonesian is a new language (first taught in schools around 1945) and hasn’t gone through all the evolution and morphing that Spanish and English has. That should make it much easier to learn, because there’s not all that cryptic crap and slang mixed in yet.
Blah, blah, blah. Boring.
For me, the true reason that Spanish is easier to pick up than Indonesian is because people here are much more willing to teach you their language. If I could have another moment to reflect on Indonesia: It was somewhat frustrating to try and use what little of the language we had learned at the grocery or the café. That is to say, when whitey tries speaking Indonesian it’s almost always a hilarious event… especially to women, for some reason. I could hardly say anything without some giggling that was then followed by, “Apa?” (what?). An unstable and somewhat strange combination were we: funny and incomprehensible. In addition to being ill-at-ease with strange sounding foreigners, most people in a developing nation want to show off how much English they know, to practice. At least that was our experience. And often if we asked, how do you say it’s raining or what’s in that sauce, it was difficult to get a good answer. Often they just weren’t interested in talking about their language for some reason. Not always of course. But getting language questions answered was a privilege one had to earn with much time… even from other white people who knew the language.
Most of our housemates here speak at least some English and put us to shame with their knowledge of French, German, Italian and in one case Chinese. But that helps us goofy Americans out a lot. And we’re learning. But there’s so much farther we have to go. For instance, explaining to our beef-loving Argentinean housemate Guido (pronounced ghee-doh) why we haven’t eaten meat in over 10 years was pretty much a lost cause. Neither one of us had enough common language to discuss the many facets of that subject. So we gave up. He said I was still OK though. It’s also interesting to note that our Spanish residents make fun of Guido’s accent.
Another housemate, Isiduardo (or just Isi), told me I need to learn Spanish, “So you can be relationships,” he said Now, I’m not quite sure what Isi’s definition of relationships entails. So I let that one go. But I am proud to say I’ve acquired enough Spanish to communicate – both less incomprehensibly and less hilariously – about how our laundry would need to be done a different day to our housekeeper, who speaks zero English. (Pablo, another housemate, told me her name about three times and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t get it.) So… I’m improving. I guess.
Yet we do not just take from this culture. Oh no. We have made contributions to our housemate’s English lexicon as well. I’ve been able to settle some confusion over a few hip-hop terms – which I will not repeat here, for many reasons. I also was able help Pablo understand the somewhat subtle difference between snot and booger after he’d watched Revenge of the Nerds. (I thought he was talking about Revenge of the Nurse at first, of which I am unfamiliar.) Interestingly enough, I also taught an entire class the definition of booger in Indonesia. (“Mr. Peter, mucous sticky-sticky. What is like stone?”) It’s a popular English word, apparently. Maybe I don’t use it enough.
As always, we’ll keep you posted as to where we are as we crawl up this learning curve in Spain. I’ll also let you know what our housekeeper’s name is after I learn it.