The first took place on our last day in Bogota. We spent the afternoon at an after school program in one of the more disadvantaged neighborhoods of the city. The children in this area only go to school for half the day, because there is not enough space for all the children to be in school at the same time. This leaves kids with a lot of free time. Our Friday afternoon consisted of lunch, Bible study, crafts, music and dance classes, and gym. For gym we walked down to the local park. After a few stretches we played two games. In the first we stood in a circle with our legs apart, and tried to throw a ball between each other’s legs. If the ball went between our legs we were out. The second game was soccer, but with a twist. We were paired up and had to keep physical contact with our partner the entire game. Following the instructions in Spanish proved to be confusing, and both Brittany and I missed how the teams were assigned for soccer, leaving us lost for the first few minutes of the game. But once the games began language didn’t matter as much. Laughter replaced words, and I found myself forgetting that we didn’t speak the same language. The few words they did use suddenly didn’t seem so foreign and in the midst of all the fun, I forgot that translating is supposed to be hard.
The second story took place yesterday, when we visited a Saturday children’s program here in Barranquilla. When we first arrived, Catalina, the director sat us down in front of the already gathered children to introduce ourselves. Much to my consternation, Sarah and Brittany, who are both much more fluent in Spanish than I am, went first. But when I took the mic, for once the words just came. I doubt all of the grammar was correct, but I didn’t have to pause every third word to think about what I was trying to say. Maybe it was because I have already introduced myself in Spanish so many times, or maybe I didn’t find the children as intimidating as adults, or maybe it was just sheer determination not to look completely inarticulate. Probably some combination of the three to be honest. Later, in the last few minutes before the kids went home, I found myself surrounded by about ten young girls, asking me everything from how cold is it in the United States, to how to say different colors in English. As we talked I realized how easy it was talking to kids. They didn’t give me strange looks if I messed up a verb form. If I didn’t understand a question they didn’t get frustrated, they just asked a new question. There was no pressure. They shared with me their delight in simply talking to someone from a different country.
These two stories have two very important things in common: they are the two times I have felt the most comfortable speaking Spanish, and they both involve children. Conversations with adults have left me frustrated, confused, embarrassed, and lost. Conversations with children have left me with hope that I actually can conquer this language barrier. Jesus said we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2-4). It would seem that the same applies to learning Spanish. The more I am like a child, the more I relax and allow myself to delight in the moment, the easier the language becomes. And maybe, just maybe, if I can hold on to that delight, if I can continue to find joy in the opportunity to speak with someone from a different place, Spanish won’t seem so frustrating anymore.