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Arrival in Bogotá: a multilingual experience

I made it. A nice, non-stop flight from Toronto in 6 hours and I am in South America. Not bad. Non-stop flights are always good just because it saves you from the changing planes and waiting around ordeal. But they’re also good because the total of carbon emissions released for your trip is less. We haven’t solved the problem completely, I’m looking forward to the biodiesel fueled flights of the future (lots of airlines currently testing fuel made from agriculture waste, algae, and other non-food sources of bio energy!), but this is one thing that helps.

So I had been practicing Spanish before I left, as usual I called my friends in Costa Rica and talked to them for about an hour on Wednesday. On Thursday I went with Irene,’s co-founder, to a Spanish “MeetUp” group in the city to practice and meet some other Spanish-speakers.  Then I chatted with the Ecuadoran lady beside me on the flight so I felt pretty ready.  Then I watched 2 and a half movies in English (Air Canada finally has those personal TV screens on the back of the seat. I say finally because Singapore Airlines had them years ago. Anyway I had to watch the Secret Life of Bees – a great book! – I cried throughout it, such a great story).

On arrival, I was happy to be greeted by a cheerful Colombian girl holding the “ProExport Colombia” sign which indicated she was those of us participating in the Destino Colombia 2009 event. We chatted easily and I remembered that the telenovelas that are popular in Costa Rica are often Colombian and the accent is easy to understand, nice and clear.

What I hadn’t thought about all this time was that the other people on the trip wouldn’t necessarily speak English OR Spanish!  Two French people arrived from France and our Colombian host, Yvonne, immediately switched to French to talk to them. I was dumbfounded when I realized I could understand! You mean 18 years of French classes weren’t in vain?  Unfortunately I cannot understand French Canadians, so I just thought I couldn’t understand the language at all, but although I couldn’t really speak back, at least I could get what was going on. I said a couple of phrases but they also speak English so I could respond that way.

So I was asking questions to Yvonne in Spanish, and she was relaying info in French, to which I was responding in English, to the French people – and Yvonne because of course she speaks English too! It doesn’t stop there.

We get to the hotel and meet the rest of our group members. A Chilean, a Brazilian and a German. The Chilean, Brazilian and I went for dinner together. I can speak English or Spanish with the Chilean but the Brazilian doesn’t speak either language. He speaks to us in Portuguese and we get the gist, the Chilean more than I because he has spent time in Brazil and has learned to understand it. I surprisingly could understand for the most part, and would respond in Spanish, which he can understand for the most part. You see how it’s working.

Then the Frenchman joined us and there was for the first time in my life, no common language among the group. So we spoke sometimes in English, but then I had to relay in Spanish what we were saying to the Brazilian and he would respond in Portuguese to the Chilean and me and we would relay in either English or French (the Chilean speaks French) to the Frenchman.  Now that’s a multilingual experience. I’ve spoken bits of four languages in the past 12 hours! Wait till we add the three others tomorrow from other countries plus our guides!

We are all heading to San Andrés today, a Caribbean island off the coast, to start our scuba diving adventure. To add another culture to the mix, I’m told the island has a heavy Jamaican influence, much like the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica and Panama!  What an incredible world we live in, I am a culture junkie!

See you in the Caribbean…

Hey Kel! Wow that sounds like a wonderful learning experience, so many languages and cultures all brought together. Sounds wonderful i’m looking forward to reading about the rest of your stay there. Have a great time!

  • Awesome, Kelly! Can’t wait to hear about the scuba diving & see more pics! THis is a fabulous way of following your Colombian Adventure!

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