Obies Using Languages: Martina Hildreth ‘18

Martina Hildreth is a third year Anthropology major at Oberlin College.


What other language do you know besides english, and how did you learn it?

The only language I know besides English is pig latin which I spoke with my mom all the time! …And a decent amount of Spanish. I started Spanish class in 7th grade, and continued with it in 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. After graduating high school I traveled to Spain and took some Spanish classes, and then later went to South America, where I realized I actually really wanted to learn the language, and was around native speakers who I desperately wanted to understand and communicate with. I then took 3 semesters of Spanish classes at Oberlin, and went to study abroad in Buenos Aires, where my speaking, understanding, thinking and comfort truly became much more solidified.


Did the the process of learning another language make you understand or relate to your surroundings differently, if so how?

Being in a place and not speaking the language at all is a very different experience than being in a place and understanding the language in all its complexities, nuances and connotations. Watching my understanding of Argentina as an outsider evolve with my grasp of the language was exciting and motivating.

Also, the experience of immersion-type language learning gave me so much more sympathy for language learners everywhere. Being somewhere, forming relationships, while your ability to communicate, express your full self, joke, understand, connect, is inhibited by language barriers is an intense, humbling, and difficult experience! It is easy to feel isolated and also so grateful to the people who are patient with you, speak slowly and simply, see you as a full and complex and intelligent person even though you feel like your ability to express yourself has been reduced to the level of a child.


Do you feel like you better express yourself or are more yourself in one language or the other? why?

I do feel like it’s easier to express myself in English, and because of that, to some extent I am more myself in English, have a fuller range of expression. I definitely feel like I am a different self in Spanish though. I take on different roles in conversations and make different jokes. Even when I think in Spanish, I think about different things, think with a slightly different attitude. It’s a strange and interesting thing, and I have my own theory about it. I learned Spanish much more recently – at a more mature, happy, positive, and open moment in my life. I feel like because of this, when thinking or speaking in Spanish, I form my thoughts along these positive optimistic lines.


What is your favorite phrase/slang or word in Spanish that isn’t easily translatable to english, and what does it mean roughly?

Oooh there are many – but what comes to mind right now is the verb “aprovechar” – which basically means to take advantage of or make the most of. It’s used all the time like – “aprovechar” the day, “aprovechar” the sun, your time with someone, whatever opportunities or things are available in the moment. I like it because it’s very positive and energizing – I like to encourage myself to “aprovechar” everything always! I also like “zarpado” which in Argentina basically means cool as in “que zarpado” as in how cool! awesome! great! filthy! dope! wicked! whatever…mostly because it sounds cool and is fun to say. I like that across the world there are so many slang ways to say this same sort of positive affirmation. I also like “buena onda, che…”


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