BEFORE WORKING IN THE PEACE CORPS in Paraguay for two years, I had never even heard of Guaraní. Guaraní is not in the Latin linguistic family tree I was familiar with. In fact, to my ears, this language sounded like it was from another planet. “Hello” is “mba’éichapa.” “Goodbye” is “jajotopata.” There are nasal harmonies and glottal stops. The “Yes” sounds like saying “he” for a long time, while holding your nose. Water is just spelled “y,” but it’s pronounced like the last sound of a drowning man.
There’s just one word for “he” and “she,” but two words for “we.” And, oh yeah, by the way, nouns change depending on who owns them. “House” is just “óga,” unless it’s yours, then it’s “róga.” If it’s his house, it’s “hóga.” And don’t get me started on negative verbs.
But after these experiences, I admitted to myself that humiliation, the thing I’d been trying to avoid, was the only way. There was no detour. When you’re learning, when you’re traveling, when you’re trying anything new, you have to be willing to look stupid, or you’re not going to get anywhere.
Don’t miss this post by Paulette Perhach originally written for Matador Network in which she recounts her experience in Paraguay trying to learn spanish and guaraní!