by Karitap

by Karitap

Peace. He thought that this was the perfect definition for the sunset visible from the cliff, with the waves rhythmically breaking against the rocks shaped by century upon century of oceanic insistence, the boats of local fishermen tossed around by the tide, tied to the sea by their nets, mended, like nylon spider’s webs laying in wait for fish. The gentle breeze aroused by the beat of forever restless seagulls’ wings and the clicking of the relay that connects the spotlight of the lighthouse breaking the monotonous melody formed by the wind, sea and seagulls. He inserted the binoculars between his gaze and the bashful horizon and spotted the boat a few miles to the left, sailing round the islet of Candelain, home to nothing more than crabs and goats. A Chinese merchant probably stocked with knock-off clothes, Gucci bags or Levi jeans sewn by preadolescents from sun up to sun down with calluses covering their dreams. He looked at the register; Kuang-Shon-Li, he ticked it and noted down the time next to the name: 20:43. The beam of the lighthouse waited patiently for the immense freighter to move across the line of the horizon from left to right, like a cable car attached to the zenith, and then he extinguished the characteristic clunking of the relay that disconnects the spotlight from the battery. CLUNK, and darkness. Ismael wrapped himself up in his coat, wondering how much longer he could hold onto his job now that the spotlight had been automated and that his work consisted in noting down every boat that he spotted and keeping an eye on the working of the activation mechanism to make sure there were no breakdowns. “You could be here for another three years, maybe a little longer; enough time to test the new automatic activation system, and if everything goes as we expect, you will have to leave the lighthouse”, the Delegate from the Marine Ministry had told him exactly three years previously. Ismael lit his pipe and entered.


Ismael lived on the ground floor of the lighthouse. Just right for one man – no more, no less. A kitchen that also served as a living room when the lamps were not on, so really we should call it a living room that served as a kitchen three times a day, a bathroom and a bedroom. That was the lot. But to Ismael, accustomed to spending entire months sharing narrow cabins with sweaty Icelandic mariners, this seemed like more space than anyone could ever possibly need. He missed life at sea, his life before a cog from the traction wheel of the tug boat in which he was working left his left leg stiffer than the mast of a schooner.


He was eating a bit of chicken and potatoes whilst watching a programme about the advances of science on the television. I live in a scientific advancement, he thought smiling; his lighthouse, a prototype that would be installed all along the coast, detected the presence of boats through a radar system and remained lit while they were close, then it would sleep like a well-trained guard dog that remains calm when danger is distant. To save energy, they had said. Or to save the cost of a salary, thought Ismael. That bloody machine had not failed, not even once, in three years, that bloody machine was going to leave him unemployed. Clunk. Clunk? The lamp has connected? He got up and looked at the register; nothing for 23:00. Some Russian captain has overdone it on the vodka tonight, he said to himself. This happened fairly frequently, one lapse of concentration by the pilot and some of the boats that were following the route north, fell excessively windward through the night and ended up too near to the coast. He climbed the stairs of the tower dragging his left leg. Five hundred and seven damned stairs curved round on themselves like a black hole. He arrived at the top and scrutinised the horizon illuminated by the powerful light of the lamp through the glass. Nothing. He waited a moment, and then swept the sea with his binoculars again. Nothing. He called the coast guards on the radio who confirmed that they had not spotted any boat in the surrounding area. Nothing at all. Fuck, what’s going on? The lamp went out again. He went downstairs and noted in the register the time of the incident; 23:05. He checked what time the next ship would arrive, 01:00 in the morning, a transatlantic with a Greek flag. One thousand and eight-one souls including passengers and crew. Fuck. He looked at his watch: 23:17. He calmed down, there was plenty of time, and he knew exactly what he had to do. He went through to his room, and opened the third drawer of the set. He pulled out a bulky blue file. Operative Procedures in case of Emergency. He looked for the chapter that explains how to switch to manual control in the index; he found it with the bookmark for the novel that lay on his bed – Moby Dick. He went to the kitchen and found his toolbox under the sink. Armed with this he confronted the five hundred and eighty-seven step spiral staircase, his left leg bashed against them one by one as if shoring them into place, a stubborn and painful confirmation of his ascent. He arrived at the top, opened the control panel and compared the picture from the book with the jungle of cables and circuits that he held before him as if he were trying to solve a “spot the difference” puzzle. He did not see anything. He looked at his watch: 23:30. It was very early and he knew and was conscious for the first time of the fact that nothing would happen; he had plenty of time to resolve the situation. He read the book with care and followed the steps cautiously and accurately: he unscrewed the cover A-3 from the panel, he removed the red fuse, he bridged the connectors J and X and reinserted the red fuse. He pressed the on button. Nothing. Shit. He looked at the book again and found with horror that he had jumped a step; he had not pushed the lever P-1. He did this and tried again. Nothing. He read in the book: ensure these steps are carried out in the correct order as failing to do so may damage the red fuse. Shit!


He looked at the time while he lighted the ignition on the van; ten to twelve. It was clear that the red fuse had blown. He had to go down to the village and look in the warehouse, among hundreds of spare parts, for this damned red fuse. Then he would put it in and switch the lighthouse to manual control, turn it on and that’s that. Nothing bad would happen. The motor of the van spluttered, frozen stiff with the cold, and finally started up. He lifted the clutch situated on a hand control next to the steering wheel, as his leg prevented him from using the traditional pedal, and descended down the path driving faster than he would have liked. A thick fog had begun to draw in surrounding the hill as was usual at this hour of the night, but the van had strong headlights…Not sufficiently powerful, however, to illuminate the vastness of the sea and save the lives of thousands of people. This thought pressed down on his stomach and he pushed down on the accelerator. The old van danced as it passed over potholes and Ismael imagined that he would burst the tyres or something worse and reduced his speed nearly immediately. It was the longest drive he had ever taken to the village; it took half an hour. He parked next to the warehouse that luckily was located in the outskirts. He approached the door and grabbed onto the enormous padlock. God! He stood there, pallid, gazing hypnotised at the enormous steel lock. Did I pick up the keys? He remembered that he always carried them on his key ring, along with all the others.


“You should calm down, Ismael”, he thought. He opened it and entered the warehouse. He read the catalogue that was hanging on the wall, he identified the part and memorised the number of the shelf where the spare was located: C35. He limped through past the shelves looking at the dusty numbers painted on them until he arrived at C35. The red fuse was there, good job too. For a moment he had thought about the possibility of arriving and that there would not be anything there or that instead of the fuse he would find another, different, part, completely useless for what he needed. With the fuse still in his hand he moved towards the door, exited, closed up the warehouse and got into the van. He left the fuse in the glove box, he put the key in the ignition, turned it and the van started on the first try. Euphoric for having avoided that stereotypical cinematic scene where the car won’t start, he didn’t identify the first sound properly, it passed through his mind without his consciousness registering it; simply an echo that, when repeated clearly in his ears with the unmistakable ring of a boat’s horn stole his breath away for a few seconds. He stepped on the accelerator and confronted the path up to the lighthouse; a tortuous path littered with potholes that he had to traverse as fast as the wind. The boat must be very close now, it was ahead of schedule. He did not have time to lose.


The van, faithful to its instincts, blocked the wheels upon feeling the quick, energetic and firm pressure from Ismael’s foot, the sharp turn of the wheel made the van turn swiftly to the right but not enough to miss the hard body of the wild boar that broke the radiator and destroyed the motor and made the vehicle roll. Ismael opened the door and got out of the rolled van, dragging himself along, without paying attention to his head injury. Blood was running down his forehead but he didn’t care. The rammed, badly wounded, wild boar hurt him more; it showed him no mercy for a few seconds while he was on the floor and finally the boar disappeared into the undergrowth. He heard and believed he heard the horn again. He took a breath, got up, and ran up the path, the blood of the wound dripping down his face, running into his eyes, he imagined bloody bodies smashing against the sharp rocks of the cliff, he ran more, he felt a stabbing pain in his chest, he spat blood, and he shouted “Help!” His bad leg was really hurting, he wished he had lost it in the operation, damned nuisance, he remembered his girlfriend next to the hospital bed and her venomous goodbye, he bashed into a rock, shouted “fuck”, he sprang back up, ran like an athlete, abandoned the path, violated the wood in search of time, looked at his broken, stopped watch, he tore it off in fury, he heard the shouts of children drowning in his head and he saw the imposing silhouette of the lighthouse in front of him, unlit and dead like a macabre monolith waiting for a spell that awakes its ghosts. He looked to the left and saw the shadow of the enormous transatlantic approaching terrifyingly towards the cliff, blind in the face of its death. He opened the door to the lighthouse, entered the kitchen, groped the walls looking for the light switch without success, remembered the stairs, the light, the life, he hobbled his way to the five hundred and eighty-seven stairs that absorbed him like a black hole, he heard the insistent and deathly horn of the boat, pessimistic, treacherous, whore, goodbye, she said, goodbye, my love, goodbye. He coughed, felt sick, dizzy, he fell down the stairs, fifty, sixty, perhaps one hundred stairs, he cried bitterly whilst he got to his feet and crawled up like an injured dog, spitting blood and blasphemes, praying inside, imploring for help, dreaming of the tranquillity of the sea…He arrived at the top and opened the control box. He saw the space for the red fuse, he groped around in his pockets and remembered. His mind went down five hundred and eighty-seven stairs that transported him to the past like a black hole, he flew over the potholed, narrow path, he saw a dead wild boar, a destroyed blackberry bush, a upside down van, a glove box, a red fuse. The shout drowned him with nausea and a shudder. The pain in his chest and in his arm was unbearable. Ismael collapsed next to the light of the lighthouse and in the death rattle of the end of his days he could hear the voice of his death; a mocking clunk and then the light, immense, powerful and the saviour that everyone sees at the end of the tunnel.

Paz. Pensó que ésa era la definición exacta del ocaso visto desde el acantilado, con las olas rompiendo rítmicas contra la roca perfilada por siglos y siglos de insistencia oceánica, las barcas de los pescadores locales zarandeadas por la marea, atadas al mar por sus redes, remendadas, como telarañas de nailon a la espera de peces. La brisa suave agitada por el aletear de gaviotas inquietas siempre y el chasquido del relé que conecta el foco del faro rompiendo la melodía monocorde que forman viento, mar y gaviotas…Interpuso los prismáticos entre su mirada y el avergonzado horizonte y avistó el buque a varias millas a babor, caboteando el islote de Candelain, donde sólo viven cangrejos y cabras. Un mercante chino, probablemente cargado con ropa de imitación, bolsos Gucci o pantalones Levis cosidos de sol a sol por preadolescentes con callos en las ilusiones. Miró el registro; Kuang-Shon-Li, lo marcó y anotó la hora junto al nombre: 20:43 h. La luz del faro esperó paciente a que el inmenso carguero recorriera la línea del horizonte de izquierda a derecha, como un funicular colgado del cenit, y luego se extinguió con el chasquido característico del relé que desconecta el foco de la batería. Clanck, y la oscuridad. Ismael se arrebujó en su abrigo preguntándose durante cuánto tiempo más podría conservar su empleo ahora que el faro había sido automatizado y que su trabajo consistía en anotar cada buque que avistaba y vigilar que el funcionamiento del mecanismo de encendido no tuviera fallos. –Podrás estar aquí tres años, quizá algo más; el tiempo suficiente para probar el nuevo sistema de encendido automático y, si todo va como esperamos, tendrás que dejar el faro– le había dicho el delegado del Ministerio de Marina exactamente tres años atrás. Ismael encendió su pipa y entró.


En la planta baja del faro tenía Ismael su vivienda. Lo justo para un hombre, ni más ni menos. Una cocina que hacía las veces de sala de estar cuando los fogones no estaban encendidos por lo que más propiamente deberíamos decir una sala de estar que hacía de cocina tres veces al día, un baño y su habitación. Eso era todo. Pero a Ismael, acostumbrado a pasar meses enteros compartiendo estrechos camarotes con sudorosos marineros islandeses, aquello le parecía más espacio del que cualquiera puede necesitar. Echaba de menos la vida en el mar, su vida antes de que un engranaje de la rueda de tracción del remolcador en el que faenaba le dejara la pierna izquierda más tiesa que el mástil de una goleta.


Estaba cenando un poco de pollo con unas patatas mientras miraba en la televisión un programa sobre los avances de la ciencia. –Yo vivo en un avance de la ciencia–, pensó sonriente; su faro, un prototipo que se implantaría en toda la costa, detectaba mediante un sistema de radar la presencia de buques y permanecía encendido mientras éstos se hallaban cerca, luego se dormía como un perro guardián bien entrenado al que la lejanía del peligro vuelve a tranquilizar. Para ahorrar energía, habían dicho. O para ahorrarse un sueldo, pensaba Ismael. Esa maldita máquina no había fallado ni una sola vez durante tres años, esa maldita máquina le iba a dejar en el paro. Clanck. –¿Clanck? ¿Se ha conectado el faro?– Se levantó y miró el registro; nada para las 23:00. –Algún capitán ruso se ha pasado con el vodka esta noche–, se dijo. Ocurría con cierta frecuencia, un despiste del piloto y algunos de los barcos que seguían la ruta norte, caían excesivamente a barlovento durante la noche y acababan demasiado cerca de la costa. Subió las escaleras de la torre arrastrando su pierna izquierda. Quinientos ochenta y siete endiablados escalones curvados sobre sí mismos como un agujero negro. Llegó arriba y escudriñó el horizonte iluminado por la potente luz del foco a través de la cristalera. Nada. Se dio un poco más de tiempo y barrió de nuevo el mar con sus prismáticos. Nada. Llamó por radio a los guardacostas que le confirmaron que no habían avistado ningún buque en las cercanías. Nada de nada. –Joder, ¿qué pasa?– El faro se apagó de nuevo. Bajó y anotó en el registro la hora de la incidencia; 23:05. Se fijó cuándo llegaría el siguiente navío; 1:00 de la mañana, un trasatlántico con bandera griega. Mil ochenta y una vidas entre pasaje y tripulación. Joder. Miró su reloj: las 23:17. Se tranquilizó, tenía mucho tiempo y sabía exactamente lo que tenía que hacer. Se dirigió a su cuarto y abrió el tercer cajón de la cómoda. Extrajo un abultado archivador azul: Procedimientos Operativos de Emergencia. Buscó en el índice el capítulo que explica cómo pasar a control manual, lo localizó con el marcapáginas de la novela que tenía sobre la cama; Moby Dick. Fue a la cocina y encontró su caja de herramientas bajo el fregadero. Así armado enfrentó quinientos ochenta y siete escalones retorcidos, su pierna izquierda los golpeaba uno a uno como apuntalándolos en su sitio, confirmación tozuda y dolorosa del ascenso. Llegó arriba, abrió el panel de mandos y comparó con la mirada el dibujo del libro con la jungla de cables y circuitos que tenía ante sí como si intentara resolver un pasatiempo de “busque las 5 diferencias”. No veía nada. Miró el reloj; las 23:30. Era muy temprano y lo supo y fue consciente por primera vez de que no iba a pasar nada, tenía tiempo de sobra para arreglar la situación. Leyó con detenimiento en el libro y siguió los pasos con cautela y precisión: destornilló la tapa A-3 del panel, arrancó el fusible rojo, puenteó los conectores J y X y volvió a enchufar el fusible rojo. Dio al botón de encendido. Nada. Mierda. Miró de nuevo el libro y comprobó con horror que se había saltado un paso; no había empujado la palanca P-1. Lo hizo y dio al contacto. Nada. Leyó en el libro: cuide de realizar estos pasos en el orden correcto pues de lo contrario podría dañar el fusible rojo. ¡Mierda!


Miró la hora mientras accionaba el contacto de la furgoneta; las doce menos diez. Estaba claro que había quemado el fusible rojo. Tenía que bajar a la aldea y buscar en el almacén, entre cientos de piezas de recambio, el dichoso fusible rojo. Luego lo pondría y pasaría a control manual el faro, lo encendería y ya está. No pasaría nada. El motor de la furgoneta renqueó aterido de frío y arrancó finalmente. Accionó el embrague situado en una maneta junto al volante, pues su pierna le impedía usar el pedal tradicional y descendió por la senda conduciendo más rápido de lo que le gustaría. Una espesa niebla empezaba a caer rodeando la colina como era habitual a aquellas horas de la noche, pero la furgoneta tenía faros potentes… No lo suficientemente potentes, sin embargo, para iluminar la vastedad del mar y salvar la vida de miles de personas. Este pensamiento le oprimió el estómago y pisó el acelerador a fondo. La vieja furgoneta bailaba con los baches del camino e Ismael, imaginó que pinchaba las ruedas o algo peor y redujo la marcha casi al momento. Tardó como nunca había tardado en llegar a la aldea; media hora. Aparcó junto al almacén que afortunadamente se encontraba a las afueras. Se acercó a la puerta y agarró el enorme candado. ¡Dios!, se quedó lívido mirando hipnotizado el enorme candado de acero. ¿Había cogido las llaves? Recordó que siempre las llevaba en su llavero, junto con todas las demás.


–Debes tranquilizarte Ismael–, pensó. Abrió y entró en el almacén. Leyó el catálogo colgado de la pared, identificó la pieza y memorizó el número del estante donde se guardaba el recambio: C35. Recorrió cojeando las estanterías mirando los polvorientos números pintados sobre ellas hasta que llegó a la C35. El fusible rojo estaba allí, menos mal. Por un momento había pensado en la posibilidad de llegar y que no hubiese nada o que en lugar del fusible encontrara otra pieza distinta, totalmente inútil para lo que la necesitaba. Con el fusible aún en la mano se dirigió hacia la puerta, salió, cerró el almacén y montó en la furgoneta. Dejó el fusible en la guantera, metió la llave en el contacto, la giró y la furgoneta arrancó a la primera. Eufórico por haber espantado el tópico cinematográfico del coche que no arranca no identificó bien el primer sonido, pasó por su mente sin que lo registrara su conciencia; apenas un eco que al repetirse diáfano en sus oídos con el timbre inconfundible de una sirena de barco le dejó sin aliento durante unos segundos. Pisó el acelerador y enfrentó el camino cuesta arriba hacia el faro; un camino tortuoso y bacheado que pensaba recorrer tan veloz como el viento. El barco debía estar ya muy cerca, se había adelantado al horario. No tenía tiempo que perder.


La furgoneta, fiel a sus instintos, bloqueó las ruedas al sentir la presión rápida, enérgica y firme del pie de Ismael, el volantazo la hizo girar bruscamente hacia la derecha pero no lo suficiente para esquivar el cuerpo duro del jabalí que rompía el radiador y hundía el motor y hacía volcar el vehículo. Ismael abrió la puerta y salió de la furgoneta volcada arrastrándose sin prestar atención a la herida de su cabeza. Sangraba sobre su sien pero no le importaba. Le dolió más la embestida del jabalí mal herido que se ensañó con él durante unos segundos mientras estaba en el suelo y finalmente se perdió entre la maleza. Oyó o creyó oír otra vez la sirena. Tomó aire, se puso en pie y corrió sendero arriba, la herida le regaba el rostro y empañaba sus ojos, imaginó cuerpos ensangrentados golpeándose contra las rocas afiladas del acantilado, corrió más, sintió una punzada en el pecho, escupió sangre, gritó ¡socorro! La pierna mala le dolía muchísimo, deseó haberla perdido en la operación, maldito estorbo, recordó a su novia junto a la cama del hospital y su adiós envenenado, tropezó con una piedra, exclamó ¡puta!, se puso en pie como un resorte, corrió como un atleta, abandonó el sendero, violó el bosque en busca de tiempo, miró su reloj parado y roto, se lo arrancó con furia, oyó gritos de niños ahogándose en su cabeza y vio la mole del faro insolente frente a él, apagado y muerto como un monolito macabro a la espera del sortilegio que despierte sus fantasmas. Miró a la izquierda y vio la sombra del enorme trasatlántico acercándose temerariamente hacia el acantilado, ciego hacia su muerte. Abrió la puerta del faro, entró en la cocina, tanteó la pared buscando el interruptor de la luz sin éxito, recordó la escalera, la luz, la vida, se abalanzó hacia los quinientos ochenta y siete escalones que le absorbieron como un agujero negro, oyó la sirena del barco insistente y agónica, agorera, traidora, puta, –adiós, –decía– adiós, cariño, adiós. Tosió, sintió una náusea, un mareo; la pierna izquierda, tiesa como un faro, se trabó en el filo de un escalón, resbaló, cayó escaleras abajo, cincuenta, setenta, tal vez cien escalones, lloró amargamente mientras se ponía en pie y subía a gatas como un perro herido, escupiendo sangre y blasfemias, rezando por dentro, implorando ayuda, soñando con la tranquilidad de la mar… Llegó a arriba y abrió el cuadro de mandos. Vio el hueco del fusible rojo, tanteó sus bolsillos y recordó. Su mente bajó quinientos ochenta y siete escalones que la transportaban al pasado como un agujero negro, voló por el camino angosto y bacheado, vio un jabalí muerto, una zarza destrozada, una furgoneta patas arriba, una guantera, un fusible rojo. El grito se le ahogó en una náusea y un escalofrío. El dolor en el pecho y en el brazo era insoportable. Ismael se desplomó junto a la lámpara del faro y en los estertores del fin de sus días pudo oír la voz de la muerte; un clank burlón y después la luz, inmensa, potente y salvadora que todos ven al final del túnel.

Hace demasiado tiempo que no escribo nada en el blog. En las próximas semanas subiré un cuento de un amigo mío, primero el original, y después mi traducción del mismo. Su cuento ganó el 1er Premio del Concurso de Relatos organizado por “Gestión de Medios de Prensa” en Junio de 2007. Espero que os guste.

by Karitap

by Karitap



Marianne Gullberg dispels some of the myths about second language acquisition hand gestures, and questions why we think of bilingualism and second language acquisition as separate?

There is a great preconception that we use gestures, not when we are speaking, but to replace speech when we are learning a second language. However, as many of us who either learn or teach second languages will know, this is not the case. Students tend to use hand gestures to try to depict what they are saying, or to help “tease” the word out of them.

However, gestures and use of gestures vary from country to country, from culture to culture. Yet they can be used as tools for language learning. How?

First it is important to define a gesture. Within gesture studies, the definition used is “a movement related to what you are trying to express”. Gestures range from “conventional gestures”, or “emblems”, which have to be learned and relate to a specific word (think of scuba-diving gestures, or even the particular “ok” that has many culturally specific but emblematic meanings), to less or non-conventional “spontaneous” gestures, that are related to speech. People usually are less aware of the practice of spontaneous gestures.

Emblems tend to be language and culture specific, and spontaneous gestures are more individual but aspects of language, such as verb semantics, can affect the types of gestures used.

As regards tools for second language acquisition, different solutions can be found for issues with vocabulary, grammar and non-fluency. Vocabulary can be teased out by the use of gestures, whilst using words and explanations to accompany such gestures. Grammar and tense in particular can be aided by making spacial gesture that indicate concepts such as present, past or future.

There is also a gesture that appears cross-culturally in second language learners which is described as “whisking”, a swirl of the hand which is common when language learners are thinking.

It has been found that vocabulary learning can be aided by the use of accompanying gestures at the time of teaching the vocabulary. It is also true that a negative effect is found if the gesture has nothing to do with the word in question. Therefore using relevant gestures to aid the retention of new vocabulary in language learning is one way of using gestures as a tool.

There are many other things that can be said about gestures – their use in interpreting, the gesture “accent” that you may have, how to assimilate gestures in your target culture. Also, hearing children to deaf parents and their use of gestures. These all are things that I will look at in future blog posts. In the meantime, get in touch – What are your thoughts on gestures?Do you use gestures in language acquisition or teaching?


A cold and snowy Soria welcomed me last Monday to give a talk on intercultural communication. In the Sala Roja of el Instituto Antonio Machado, so named in honour of the poet who taught there, intermediate and advanced level English students of the Escuela de Idiomas de Soria braved the weather to attend my talk about intercultural communication.

The theme I chose for my talk was the Olympic Games. Through the use of sport I could explain some underlying themes of intercultural communication using concrete examples, and allow the talk to be understood by a wide range of English proficiencies. The talk was given to groups ranging from B1 (intermediate) to C1 (advanced).

I wanted to use the theme of sport to express some ideas to the students in order to explain to them that subject specific  language can be exclusive, and therefore exclude those with no previous experience of the subject, and inclusive to those who do – and in this case can transcend linguistic boundaries.

To follow from this I wanted to stress that intercultural communication can therefore be both inter- and intralingual. Given my experience as a volunteer interpreter at the Olympic Games, I drew on the nature of preparation for interpreting to explain my ideas. I wanted to stress to these English learners the different knowledge pockets that we all have – and that our linguistic knowledge is not as complete in our own language as we may think. We are simply better equipped to deal with the gaps in our knowledge.

I wanted to use many activities to demonstrate the different levels of linguistic competence we have regarding different sports, not only in English, but also in their native tongue, Spanish. I felt that this was important as sometimes it can seem very daunting learning a new language, having so many gaps in our knowledge. Sometimes it helps to realise that in our own language there are so many things that we don’t know either.

I kicked off with the example of football, as one of the most widely played sports across the world, and certainly a very important sport both in the UK and Spain. I asked them to connect the Spanish terms for common football terms such as “goal”, “throw in” and “free kick” to the English terms. As expected, most dealt with this without much difficulty.

I was using this to explain the inclusive nature of sports language. When you understand the terms being used it brings people who understand both the language and the actions of such a sport together. However, I wanted to explain that football can also be exclusive to those who are not very interested in football, by giving examples of nicknames that football teams have. For people who follow football, this would still constitute an “inclusive” element, but for those for whom football just happens to be a popular sport in their country, this now moves into the “exclusive” realm of the culture.

To switch from common, popular sports, I then moved to the sports I actually interpreted for at the Olympics. I was based in the Excel Exhibition Centre, so I was interpreting for boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing and taekwondo. These are minority sports and so the language used to describe the techniques, the kit and the format of the games are familiar to a smaller audience.

2012-08-01 12.35.20

I chose to use fencing and boxing to demonstrate my point. As regards fencing, I used an image showing various items of fencing kit. I first asked the students to try to name the kit in Spanish, and then in English. I stressed the point that whilst some of the kit items are named using normal, everyday words in both Spanish and English (e.g. chaqueta, jacket), others are not (plastrón, plastron). I used this to emphasise that sometimes it is not being a native speaker of a language that matters, but an interest or knowledge of a subject area.

Mexican Boxer Oscar Valdez being interviewed after a fight

Mexican Boxer Oscar Valdez being interviewed after a fight

Finally I moved to boxing, to look at stances, punches and defence. This was the most complicated exercise, but the students maintained interest and kept going for the final round. They found that as a group they could name most of the punches in Spanish, and therefore some in English, but the stances and defence was more difficult. Once again, often the names in Spanish of the moves were very similar if not borrowed from the English. This had not been my original intention of demonstrating that sport transcends language barriers, but it did have the added bonus of showing the importance of subject knowledge contrasted against language knowledge, which I think can be a useful tool in language learning.

This brought me to my final point, in that intercultural communication can be extrapolated out to many different cultures – it depends on how you define culture. You can define culture as a language group, you can define it as a country group, a regional group and so on. But, you can also define it by different subject “cultures”. Different sports have their own culture, just as companies do, as well as different professions, and any other group that share a common interest or need. And with this comes different terminology and linguistic expression. Whether you are talking about a Geordie from Newcastle, a social worker (think of all those acronyms), an activist, or a scientist, each of these represents a specific culture, which is one of the many cultures that each person belongs to.

In the end I wanted to express to these students that language is complex and diverse. It is fluid and not static, and that in our own native language there are many gaps in our knowledge, just as there are in any second or third languages that we might learn. However, with our native language these gaps seem small and insignificant most of the time. If we can apply some of the coping mechanisms we apply in our native language to our learning of new languages, then the interlingual gap will become smaller.