Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
I like to paraphrase Mr. Mandela’s wise words and say, “If you speak just one word in another person’s language, that word goes to his heart.”
Many years ago, I moved to the colonial city of San Miguel De Allende to start a new life with my wife. There was a large expat community in the city, and I discovered that many of them struggled with speaking Spanish.
As a teacher of Spanish, I knew I could help these people. I began to notice how some of the expats in my town got along in Spanish. I studied what was working for them and, I must say, I heard some of the craziest Spanish. But they were able to get along just fine with simple “point-and-shoot Spanish.” Having perfect, pretty, and proper Spanish wasn’t their goal.
No one I met spoke the language perfectly. But they were able to make themselves understood and to connect with people. You can too. My many students are testament to this. Take Sonja, who the other day was telling me about a special event she was at recently. Sonja’s maid invited her to celebrate her daughter’s fourth birthday. She was honoured and before she went to the party, she brushed up on her birthday Spanish. With a few simple words Sonja was able to fit in perfectly. She sang songs, chatted with the birthday girl, and had a great experience.
I never get tired of hearing success stories like this.
Over the years many of my students have told me that they’d been afraid to try to learn Spanish—afraid that they wouldn’t be able to learn a new language at their age, or that they’d offend someone by not speaking it properly.
In truth, you can get by with simple, easy-to-learn Spanish and people will appreciate the effort. It starts with every hello, please, and thank you. A big smile and a good hello will open more doors than you think. I’ve seen it thousands of times.
This is the secret that I discovered. Forget Perfection. Think Connection.