Lost in Translation (Yes, Condescending Wonka, I used it as a title.)

This afternoon, for the fifth time in the last week, I walked into an office along Calle Amparo in Madrid’s Lavapiés neighborhood. One major difference between this visit and the others: Today I went without an interpreter.

Let me explain. We are 17 students on this dialogue, all of us very fluent in English. However, only one can speak Spanish at the level necessary to conduct an intelligible interview. (Hi, Maria!) We’ve been in Spain three weeks now and this one student, who also happens to be our staff photographer, has interpreted whole conversations for almost all of us at one point or another. She is now very exhausted (though she won’t always admit it) and still has a very, very busy 13 days ahead of her.

Last night, Carlene and I went through the first draft of my second piece – a story on the challenges of aging as an LGBT individual. We (by which I mean she) found a few holes that needed patching up with further reporting, so I decided to do what I would normally do if we’d been in Boston (or any other English-speaking territory): get off my ass and ask.

Armed with my pre-translated questions, I sought out my source in his office. What followed was a very odd 20 minutes, during which I’d point to a typed question and have this wonderful, energetic, gay older man write down the answers in my notebook. The rest of our Q&A was done through a combination of grunts, gestures and slow, short sentences, a dose of Google Translate.

It’s very, very likely that I asked something somewhat sensitive in an awkward manner. But such is technology sometimes; we put our faith in it and hope for the best. Thank goodness Federico (and Elianne, too!) were totally game. 

Ultimately it was an interesting experience – and I did manage to get the answers I needed. Do I still wake up in the morning wishing I could speak Spanish? Every. Single. Day.

So. Anyone know any Spanish/English interpreters? We’re in Madrid ’til June 10.

…Seriously, though.

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