Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An Adventure in Circumlocution

 For how long have you ever sustained a conversation in Spanish (or your second language)? I had never thought about this until more than 20 years ago when I found myself in a day-long marathon of a conversation. How I ended up in that situation is a story in itself.

A couple of years after college and less than a year before I started grad school I heard an ad on the only Spanish-language radio station in the area announcing they were looking for bilingual sales reps for the station. Now, I had no interest in actually doing any selling, nor am I any good at it, in any language, but did that stop me? Goodness no. What did interest me was this open invitation to speak Spanish in a non-social setting, so I went. At the designated time I arrived at the station and there was instructed to wait until called to the meeting. There were few people there in the waiting area but one, a large man was speaking Spanish with a lady who worked there. As I listened I was struck by his accent, surely Venezuelan. It was an intuitive reaction, perhaps wishful thinking since just 3 years earlier I had been there to visit my then boyfriend/fiance. Compelled to speak up, I went over to him and asked in a natural tone that showed an intent to bond with him, “ ¿Tú habla' e'pañol?” followed by “¿De dónde ere'?” purposely dropping my s's. My 'presentimiento' was right. He was from Venezuela and as it turned out, from the same city as my former boyfriend where I had spent 2 weeks. We talked up a storm about his country giving me a chance to not only reminisce with him about local culture and geography but also to feel more like 'su paisana' than simply a non-native speaker who can communicate and happened to have been to an area tourists don't usually frequent. We hit it off and I offered to show him around town the following week since he had just moved here and didn't speak English.

After about 5 or 10 minutes, we were called to a conference room for what I thought was a group interview. Actually it was more of a meeting to inform us about what the job would entail. It seemed there were no real requirements and it would be commision only all of which made it less appealing even to just listen to in Spanish. I got bored very quickly and my blood sugar was dropping and so I had my excuse to duck out of there. I was ready to leave anyhow because I had already gotten what I came for.

A week later, my new friend and I got in touch and agreed to meet for a tour of the city. We started out in the morning around 9. I had been looking forward to it since I had mentioned the idea to him. I began by giving some background about the area and its general demographics and features of the area. So far so good, even though I found that I had to circumlocute (talking your way around the vocabulary you don't know by using what you do know) more words than I expected, —until about 20 minutes into the conversation when my lack of precise vocabulary and constant circumlocution literally had me out of breath. I started hyperventilating. I had to stop talking and roll down the window, take some deep breaths and relax some 15 to 20 minutes before I could resume my informal and spontaneous presentation. When I did, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be spending the rest of the day circumlocuting and prepared myself psychologically for it. However, my confidence in being able to describe my city had eroded away so I gave up on the idea that my vocabulary was broad enough for this day-long task. By the end of the day, I felt that although I had ran a linguistic marathon, I had gained a type of stamina and confidence to make it through a day without tiring from circumlocution.


  1. Anna, as always, you have chosen an interesting topic (i.e. circumlocution) and shared with your readers a truly awesome story. As you can imagine, I can wholeheartedly understand both the mental and physical exhaustion when taking on such a challenge, or linguistic marathon (as you so loved phrased). During my studies in Europe (particularly France), there were many times in which I would met up with friends from other parts of France and would explore and learn new things about a particular place. While I go on for several hours, eventually the mind-racking, breath-depleting aspect of it tended to get the better half of me. Thanks for the share. --AL

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience too.