When I was in high school and college, there was a certain time when it was considered "mandatory" to take a foreign language class. I'm sure that in some schools you could have taken German or Japanese. In Kennett it was French or Spanish.
I chose French, having the odd notion that it might be fun to read Dumas or Hugo in the original French. I loved The Three Musketeers and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Of course, 2 years of high school French and ten hours of college French didn't get me there. Then I transferred to the College of Agriculture before I went to Veterinary School. French…
It's pretty obvious now that I should have chosen Spanish. Even then, it was more likely that I'd be near our southern border than our northern one, much less go to Europe. Of course, I had no inkling of how our local Hispanic community would develop.
When I was a kid, there was one Hispanic family in the county. The head of the household was known to one and all as "Injun Joe". He was not an Indian (or native American) and his name was not Joe, but everyone called him that. He was a very hard-working guy, and well respected, and his descendants still live in the community.
Now we have a very significant Hispanic community in our area. I have been concerned that the language barrier could hamper my ability to care for their pets, so I bought a Spanish-English veterinary phrase-book. You know, what's the Spanish for "How many times has your dog pooped in the living room?" Fortunately, most of them speak English just fine, which is good. That book would really only be helpful to somebody who speaks both Spanish and English, but doesn't know the veterinary terminology. The folks who don't speak English very well have always brought a friend (or child) to interpret. Until yesterday.
This very pleasant lady came in with a very thin and not very healthy-looking puppy. The receptionist told me, "I think she wants booster shots." She thought that because the lady would smile and nod to just about anything you said. If you had asked her if she wanted the dog made into sausage I think you would have gotten the same smile and nod.
It took me a minute to realize this. I called my friend, Jerry Mercier, who is very fluent in Spanish and he was kind enough to come help. When I returned to the exam room, I found that the lady had called a friend who was interpreting over the phone. We took turns speaking to this lady and passing the phone back and forth. This was a good start, but very awkward.
You could see the relief on the lady's face when Jerry came in and began speaking with her. I am sure that there was even more relief on my own face. Naturally, things took a little longer than average, but with our tranlator's help we were able to do a good job. I can easily imagine how it feels to be unable to communicate in a strange land, because it was just as hard for me as for her… for that little while.