This is part five in a series where I share pieces of my Costa Rica travel journal. Follow the links below to read the previous installments:
- Part One: “Into the Nations”
- Part Two: “Beneath His Feet”
- Part Three: “Clearly Seen”
- Part Four: “Deep Calls to Deep”
I took French in high school, then four semesters of French in college. That means, while I’m not fluent, I can carry on a basic conversation. And discuss flying buttresses (that was a fun chapter), but I’ve never even had a need to do that in English. But still. French.
The people of Costa Rica don’t speak French, though. Some of them can speak English, but Spanish is the primary language, which means my years of foreign language study were pretty obsolete on the trip. Some Spanish words sound really similar to French words, and some of the structure is familiar, but it’s still a very different language.
But here’s what I found: When I heard Spanish being spoken, rather than trying to come up with some Spanish vocab that I knew (quesadilla, enchilada, taco, salsa…), my brain searched for something other than English. And what did it come up with? French.
Even though I’m not fluent in French, sometimes my mind heard something in Spanish, tried to switch it to French, then translate it to English. On the plus side, the trip showed me I know a lot more French than I gave myself credit for! But most of the time, I was like, “Really? Thanks, brain. That’s so very helpful.”
For example, several times I said “oui” rather than “si” to a waiter at a restaurant. I would also spout “s’il vous plait” instead of “por favor.” And then, you know, an enthusiastic “bonjour!” or “je m’appelle Anna,” instead of “hola” and “mi llamo Anna.” There were also colors, numbers, and “where’s the bathroom” phrases to contend with, too.
Thankfully, though, I was able to add several Spanish words and phrases to my vocabulary. I actually surprised myself with how much I retained. My favorite Spanish word is probably—wait for it—queso. So I made up my own expression for when something was really good: Queso bueno!
Yes, it means “good cheese.” And yes, it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Sort of. I thought it was perfect, but I think everyone got tired of hearing it by Day 2. It’s still an active part of my vocabulary, though. Queso bueno!
The language barrier, I found, ended up not being much of a barrier at all, but rather provided opportunities for us to understand each other in deeper ways.
From my travel journal:
Today we went to a local church. The windows were open, and I sat by one of them. I could look out to my right and see a breathtaking view of the mountains, covered in various shades of green.
Oh, green! So much green! Signs of life, of growth, of new beginnings. Evidence of a Provider who brings the rain in its due time. So much green.
During the service, I couldn’t understand the words of the songs – couldn’t even try to understand – because they were in Spanish. But in a way, I was glad. I couldn’t hear the words, but I could hear what their heart sounds like; the purest, truest essence of their soul spilling out in the language I’m coming to love more and more.
That’s true worship, right? Worship is more than the words we say and how we say them. True love for our Lord transcends all barriers, knocks down all walls, breaks all chains. It’s something you feel. Not like happy emotions, but rather something deeper. Something that starts in your core and stirs and swells until it can’t help but overflow from your heart. That’s what I heard during the service. There was no way I could even try to understand what the people were saying, so I stopped trying. Instead, I stood there and listened to something much more sacred: I listened to hearts. I listened to Love, a language that truly knows no barriers.
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” – Psalm 150:6
Dios te ama!