Today I was extremely fortunate to encounter two women on the train who were speaking Spanish. Despite the fact that everyone in Denmark can speak perfect English, there’s something that feels invasive about making small talk with strangers in a language that isn’t their mother tongue. In general I spend my forty minute commute in silence, unless I’m with another DIS or Krogerup student.
However, today there were some problems with the train. And when there’s problems with the train, the conductor tends to announce any changes in Danish, and forget that there are, in fact, people who don’t speak Danish on the train. Luckily, I have enough basic vocabulary and comprehension skills that I can generally understand the announcements on the train. “Toget standser ikke i ___” means “The train doesn’t stop at ___.” However when complications like today’s arise, I tend to ask somebody in order to confirm that I understood correctly.
As it turns out the train was broken, so everyone got off and waited for the next one. When we got on the next train, it was twice as crowded as a normal train, standing room only for many people. Miraculously, I ended up squeezing in next to two women who were speaking Spanish to each other. The train wasn’t scheduled to go to the end of the line, and they were debating whether or not it would add extra stops. Since they were speaking a language that I feel relatively confident conversing in, I asked if they thought the train would continue. Just then the conductor came on and announced that the train would continue, and they told me yes.
For the next fifteen minutes or so, we chatted about the weather (rainy) how crowded the train was (very) and other general small talk, mixing English, Danish and Spanish words (a unique lingual experience if there ever was one). Although both of the women could speak Danish, they chose to make small talk in Spanish, as is anyone’s instinct. By encountering a language that I understand again, I realized how overwhelming being unable to make small talk (even if it’s just a comment on the weather) feels, and consequently how personally satisfying linguistic competency is. This tiny encounter that reminds me that I am, in fact, capable of learning another language, and helps support my tough decision to stay for a year in order to try to learn more of the language.