Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Humor is Hard to Catch in a Second Language

            Amongst gaining her 20th bead Liz Gilbert states “Humor is hard to catch in a second language” (56)—and even further extension of that, she explains that anything is hard to “catch” and understand in a second language. Throughout the book Gilbert does a good job in observing and highlighting the misconception of language—for example discussing Italian and English idioms, misunderstanding the Italian cab driver, and not understanding an Indian women’s statement about “almost” having a Guru.
            Gilbert names a very prominent—for lack of a better word—issue that occurs between people of different cultures and languages. I would argue that an extension of that is that there are communication gaps formed between ages, genders, experiences too, not just culture and language alone.
            These barriers are made evident through Gilbert’s escapades in Eat Pray Love but these barriers are also evident to me in my volunteer work at Tunbridge. I have found that most of the time when the kindergarteners try to get my attention it is through humor and things that they think are funny—things that perhaps once would have been funny to me, but now make no sense at all.
            For instance, yesterday we went on a “fall walk” to the duck pond near the school to observe characteristics of fall. I usually don’t join them during recess or anything outside of the classroom but I was asked to come along for our fall walk. I was taking up the rear of the line and was responsible for making sure that the two stragglers in the back of the line did not fall behind—which they constantly did throughout our walk. One of the kids, Dylan, said to me: “Watch this!” as he flipped the hood of his coat onto his head and started laughing hysterically. I forced a smile but was mostly confused: was I suppose to be laughing because he put his coat on? Apparently I was. The other children around were all laughing at an action that they all understood to be comical and it was as if I was a foreigner that didn’t understand their language.
            Once at the duck pond a little girl named Madison came up to me and said “Ms. Toni! I’ve been to the duck pond before!” and started laughing. Apparently this statement of fact was something that was supposed to be humorous. Despite my smile she repeated it two more times: clearly wanting a laugh, not just a smile, from me and once I finally gave it to her she ran away satisfied that I thought she was funny.
            Conversely most times children say things that they don’t intend to be funny, as I had touched on in an earlier blog post, which we as adults find to be funny. It is through this very odd paradigm that I ponder the same questions that Gilbert did in relation to communication and the way we perceive the world. Gilbert, upon these musings of miscommunication is saying something about the human condition and our ability to recognize, process, and understand language. And I think that Gilbert suggests that once we push passed these barriers, or at the very least understand that these barriers exist we can begin to appreciate language and life in a new way. Like in the situation with my kindergarteners, once I understood that they were joking and wanted me to laugh I was able to appease them, making them feel happy and fulfilled and as a result making me feel satisfied for giving them that as well: appreciating my current life as a volunteer in a new way. 

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