It’s amazing how close you can feel to someone when you finally learn to speak even a little of their language.
Language differences create huge barriers of understanding between two people, and they’re often compounded by the fact that one person or the other is from a different country and culture. Before somebody learns the other’s language, the two are worlds apart.
But interestingly, it doesn’t take full linguistic mastery for those walls to come down.
Today I passed time in between stints of work talking with a coworker from Central America. I used my very basic, present-tense only (for the most part) Spanish to ask him simple questions like “Do you have children?” and “what city are you from?” and “Do you like to fish?”
We talked about the things a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish would let me talk about, and those things coincidentally are some of the most important things in life: home, family, food, work. He seemed happy to share, and I was happy to hear and share my own thoughts.
These weren’t flowery sentences, and they weren’t flowing conversations. But they worked, and they let me get to know someone who has been something of a mystery to me since I met him. And I was surprised (as I have been before) how much pleasure it brought to me – and seemed to bring to him – to converse even on such a basic level. Walls can come down without much pushing even when language skills are young.
I would guess for this reason that the simple questions are some of the most rewarding aspects of speaking even a little of a new language.