Having grown up Hispanic-American with a mother who does not speak English well, I have had to translate for her ever since I could remember as well as help with with other aspects of language. Now that I am in a country where I do not speak the language, I have begun to realize what my mother experiences in the United States and the daily struggles she must be facing.
In 1995, my mother left her home country, Guatemala, and immigrated to the United States to begin a new life with better opportunities. Since she has lived in the United States, she has faced some difficulties, especially with the language. English has been very difficult for her to learn and although she has a great understanding of it, she still struggles to communicate.
Consequently, from the moment I was able to talk in both English and Spanish, I was translating for my mother. I helped her with many things varying from transactions with cashiers at the grocery store to more complicated matters such as paying bills. She has made the effort to try and learn English but it continues to be a struggle for her even now.
Growing up, I always recognized how hard it must be for my mom to live in a country where she has difficulty expressing herself but luckily, we live in a diverse enough place where she can easily ask for someone who speaks Spanish and usually, there is someone available to help her. I enjoy helping my mother since it has aided me in becoming a very independent person who can handle lots of situations thrown at her.
Now that I am studying abroad, I am able to open my eyes to the world that my mother has been living for the last 24 years. I am not fluent in Korean but I know enough to get around and ask questions however, I still continue not knowing a grand majority of the language. I feel the pressure and anxiety that comes with not knowing a language and having to depend on my friends who know better Korean than I to tell me what the person had just said to me.
For example, within the first week of getting to South Korea, I went to a food place with my friends to quickly get something to eat then go back to the dorms. I paid in cash, got my food, thanked the store owner and then proceeded to walk towards my friends. One of my friends was behind me in line and I heard her call me back to the store because apparently the man was trying to get my attention and I did not initially hear him.
When I returned, he was talking about money but I did not understand what was going on. In very broken Korean, I began trying to explain that I gave him the money for the food. At first, I thought there might have been a confusion in prices so I pointed to the food item on the menu and tried to communicate that I had paid that exact amount. He kept talking in Korean and I had absolutely no idea of what he was saying and I began to panic a tiny bit because he was not understanding what I was going on about.
Eventually, we understood each other and he got the message that I had already paid him. It was mainly solved when my friend intervened and spoke to him in Korean since she knows more than I do. At that moment, I had a flashback to the countless amount of times that my mom would be in public trying to communicate and she would tap my shoulder to get my attention so that I could help her with the situation.
I perfectly understood what it felt like for my mother to feel panic when she could not properly express herself and how confused she might be in some situations. It was all new ground for me as well since, for the first time in my life, I had to depend on someone else to translate for me and explain what was going on. Although I panicked at the moment, I still felt proud of my attempt to communicate and I used it as a learning experience to motivate me to learn more Korean.
Now that I have been in Korea for two weeks, I have come to appreciate my mother so much more because of her endless attempts to try and learn a new language and reaching out for help when she knows she needs it. I feel lucky to be in a country where the people have been patient with me and love the fact that a foreigner is trying to speak their language.
It makes the process a lot more encouraging and I no longer feel too intimidated talking to people in public. Learning a new language is not simple but just like my mother, I will continue to try and hopefully someday, I will be able to communicate effectively and understand what people are saying to me.