Personal Narrative Essay: Language Barrier

I never would've imagined that my career as an auto technician would have led me to begin learning a new language. At the time, I had just started working for an automotive shop in North Houston. It was summer and I can tell you, Texas heat in a small metal shop, with no AC, sure makes you sweat. Everyday was the same miserable heat, but this specific day, the heat was not my only problem. On that day, my inability to comprehend Spanish was really going to make my life difficult. 

This was my first time at the shop without my boss, who speaks Spanish fluently. I just started on the first car he had assigned me to work on. As I finished taking a bolt off, a beat up junker came cruising into the parking lot. From out of the beat up car came a large Hispanic man. As he slowly came walking  up to me I cleaned my hands to be able to greet him with a handshake. This man dressed in these extremely weathered denim jeans and a shirt that smelled like it had never been washed in its lifetime. As the words began flowing out of his mouth I was flabbergasted since I could not understand an ounce of what he was saying. I just thought to myself, taking Spanish in high school would have really helped at this moment. I just gazed at him in awe and thought to myself, “Was he asking me for directions? Was he lost? Did he need his car fixed?” I had no idea what he needed and became panicked that I could lose a customer's business. I felt so defeated that I did not have the capability to communicate with him!

At this point, I tried making out some of the words he was communicating, but the minuscule amount of Spanish I knew was no help. The customer seemed to be getting annoyed, so I quickly thought of another plan. I immediately walked over to his car and started pointing at different parts of his car. To my dismay, he just looked at me like I had lost my mind. As I stood there in complete silence, I had thought of the most incredible idea! I rustled through my sweaty pocket and pulled out my very handy dandy cell phone. I immediately unlocked my phone and went straight to google translate. I just thought to myself there was no way this idea would fail. I began speaking into the phone, saying, “Hello! My name is Preston. How may I help you?” And immediately as I finished speaking into my phone, it died. How could I have been so scatterbrained to not charge my phone! At this point I came to my last resort and reached for a pen and paper. On the piece of paper I wrote, “número” and “problema”, so I could at least deliver my boss this information to get back to him.

Simultaneously, as the gentleman began filling out his information and his vehicle's concerns, I heard the whistling of my boss’s VW turbo. I was so overwhelmed while he was away, but as soon as I laid my eyes on him I knew he would take over and deal with the very patient customer. I immediately observed the relief in the customer's face that he could finally communicate what he needed. It turned out that he needed his front suspension fixed, along with his air conditioning system. From that moment on, I try to pick up on key Spanish words and learn Spanish from my boss, to better help my ability to communicate with Spanish speaking individuals. I’ve realized expanding my ability to understand other languages will not only help cause less frustration but will also help enhance my career.


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