Spanglish?! Language Transfer in the Yoga Class

When based in Spain, I began my journey into yoga teacher training in Valencia, as you know if you’ve read my About page.

I think it was the best way to improve my Spanish at the time. I had a basic understanding of functional Spanish, and because I was more or less bilingual with Italian and English at home, I could understand (but not speak) at least 50% of spoken and written Spanish with little effort.

But entering into a community with other trainee yogis was challenging with my Spanish level. Trying to articulate thoughts on spirituality, Taoism and Vedic philosophy was almost impossible at first, not to mention understanding the specific language particularly difficult. I didn’t know all those parts of the body a normal Spanish text book would teach you like empeine (the top of the foot) and axila (armpit), and ingles (bikini line), there had never been a situation in which those words cropped up in conversations in Spain before. So I learnt a lot more Spanish through my yoga teacher training, and still pick up a lot from our yoga cohort forum posts at Yoga Integral Dharma Ananda.

I began teaching (only for one summer) in the UK, after moving from Spain to UK and before moving again to China in September 2013. Those three months gave me a sort of taster for teaching yoga, it was the first time I’d endeavoured to teach it. Of course, teaching in the UK meant teaching in English, not in Spanish.

You wouldn’t believe it, but despite the fact that I am a native English speaker, I found it so difficult to convert the instructions into English. The language just wasn’t as beautiful or delicate sounding, especially not certain body parts.

On coming to China and starting to teach yoga here, I met another women who teaches Satyananda Yoga, and like me, began teaching in China. Funnily enough, her name is Gabriela too! But Gabriela with one l, the Bolivian way. She’s a native Spanish speaker who trained to teach yoga in the USA, and so trained in English. She too experienced the same difficulty as me, teaching in Spanish for her, as she had chosen to do in Ningbo, was the challenge.

I find it charming that we have had to ask each other how to give certain instructions in each other’s non-native language. An example of the internationalisation of yoga instructions amongst yoga teachers of sorts.

I struggled to find an elegant word for nalgas, as in the instruction sientate con nalgas bien atras in Dandasana (The Staff Pose). Butt cheeks just sounds unpleasant in English. She told me seat bones or sits bones is the nicest and most apt expression. She struggled to find the right word for twist in Spanish, as in when giving instructions for Ardha Matsyasana (The Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), breath in in the centre, twist and look over your shoulder, hold, and breath out, and stay there more a moment without breath. She came up with tuerces, the right word, but if you know Spanish, it sounds uncomfortable and even painful. I remember my yoga teacher Ananda giving us the gentle instruction gira, mira el hombre izquierda, reten, y exhala, y quedate ahi algunos segundos sin aireGirar much more apt and elegant, so I shared this language instruction with Gabriela.

Thankfully, we have each other in Ningbo to support, collaborate and teach each other. Thank you querida Gabriela, eres un regalo.

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