Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Stumbling in a Foreign Language

We visited the Czech Parliament today for the Political Science class. As an International Studies Major, I thought it was going to be a spectacularly interesting tour of a beautiful building. However, it was perhaps the worst tour I’ve had of Prague.
I had a picture in my mind of a magnificent building, like the glorious parliament of Budapest, but it turned out that it was a small building hidden within Malá Strana. It wasn’t even separated, but connected to neighboring buildings. The first thing we did was watch a movie that was made for elementary students that explained political processes. Although it was hilarious, it was voiced over in monotone English, I did not learn much about the history of the building.
After the movie, we were led on a tour around the building. Although the original building had been the oldest parliament in Europe, there had been a fire since and things had been restored. As a result, the building was not very interesting architecturally. The only interesting section was the room in which the House resided while legislating. Full of gold leaf and Romanesque statues, the room was the only part that had survived the fire.
What particularly made the tour boring was that our guide was partly afraid to speak in English, so he had our teacher translate, which would have been fine, but we were with our professor who has problems speaking in English. The tour guide could have probably done a better job and, soon, realized he should have given the tour himself. Information that would have normally taken 2 minutes to get across took about 20 minutes. It was very difficult to pay attention.
After the tour, a couple of my classmates were complaining to themselves about how boring the tour was, which kind of bothered me. As English speakers, we expect to be catered to. It must be extremely difficult, however, to try an convey the complex information in a foreign language. The vocabulary was difficult, and having to translate for someone else adds another difficulty. I really wish that we could hear our professor in Czech. I’m sure he would immediately gain a lot of confidence and capture the attention of the class with more ease.
It takes a long time before you can become confident in a foreign language. It is difficult enough to be able to control your mother tongue. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to teach a class in a language in which I am not completely familiar. When speaking other languages, I know I must sound very unsure of myself. Feeling insecure while speaking can make it sound like I am unsure of the subject matter itself. Without passion behind the words, I cannot express my desire fully. It seems that this can be fixed however. Whenever I have discussions with people in Spanish about education reform, which surprisingly happens quite often, I immediately feel like I have a stronger control of the language and can express what I desire. Passion can destroy the barrier that is created when speaking in a second language. Nevertheless, I sometimes come to a word that I do not know, and immediately become frustrated and get lost in the flow of the conversation. One day, I hope to have the capacity to speak in a foreign language with just as much confidence as I have in my mother tongue. Maybe, one day, I can give Czechs tours of the White House.

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