Gerbulspanglish. (noun) \jer-bəl-‘span-glish\ : the chief language spoken by yours truly, an amalgamation of German, Bulgarian, Spanish, and English, which, when spoken to anyone else who does not speak those exact languages, sounds like little more than gobblygook.


Example: Das kniga geht um una momiche, die absolyutno alleine auf una deserted isla jivee, ohne su familia and mit ganz wenigen resources.

Translation: The book is about a girl who lives completely alone on a deserted island, without her family and with very few resources.

In my training to become an ELL teacher, we studied the natural tendency of multiple language speakers to code switch, or jump back and forth between two languages, often in the same sentence. Usually, code switching is no big deal when the people having the conversation all speak the same languages. In fact, it can be fun, because sometimes there is no translation that fits a word as well as when spoken in its original language.

Shockingly, code switching doesn’t work when I throw in a random German or Bulgarian word – completely automatically and by accident – when speaking to our Mexican friends and neighbors in Spanish. People stare at me in confusion. It takes me a while to figure it out. After all, the words flowing out of my mouth make complete sense to me. And sometimes – to me, at least – the substituted words make even more sense. It took me weeks to master the pronunciation of prahosmukachka (vacuum cleaner in Bulgarian)… but it flows off the tongue so much more easily than aspiradora (vacuum cleaner in Spanish).

I’ve always loved languages. It’s a good thing I do, because I can’t imagine where I’d be today if I didn’t. My life’s path has all but forced me to learn multiple languages, which has enabled me both to communicate with those around me and have super cool and unhackable internet passwords (nobody’s breaking into this girl’s bank account!). German came first, when I was nine and my parents were stationed in Frankfurt; then Bulgarian at 23, upon being plopped in small town in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps Volunteer with no more than two English-speakers; and now, at 34, Spanish.

Ironically, Spanish is grammatically the easiest language I’ve studied and probably the most useful to have as an American, yet it’s been the most difficult for me to learn. I’m older, for one, but I also know I don’t study it enough to speak at the level that I would like. After holding a steady, albeit choppy, forty-five-minute conversation this week with my Spanish teacher, I decided that was a milestone great enough to add Spanish to my Facebook list of languages. Just don’t ask me to explain anything complicated, because what you’ll get in return is a string of words in Gerbulspanglish, the result of my brain’s default mechanism to substitute German and Bulgarian words for those I don’t know in Spanish. To my brain, they’re all foreign languages, so what’s the difference?

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year had been to be able to hold an intelligible (note: intelligible, not necessarily intelligent) conversation in Spanish. I am happy with my progress, though I have a lot of room for improvement. Fortunately, I still have a couple of months to reach my goal. And with any luck, I’ll actually be able to call myself somewhat proficient by next summer… just in time for us to leave Mexico. And go to Latvia. Where people speak Latvian and Russian.

Excuse me, do you speak Gerbulruspanglatvish?

Thank you for reading!

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