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Transcription in Kaqchikel. My Experience

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Something incredible that I learned while on this trip to the UMD Guatemala Field Station this summer is that simply talking with someone about their day can reveal unique oral narratives. Recording, transcribing, and translating these narratives can aid in the preservation of the storytelling methods in the language that one is studying. in my case Kaqchikel.

For my host Doña Güicha and I (and for many people around the world), asking about the happenings in each other’s days is usually where our conversations would begin after a long day of work. I wanted a chance to document those interactions, so I made this recording while we sat together, watching the tortillas heat up on the wooden stove top. In the background the youngest member of our family, 7 year old Daniel, plays with the chair (and occasionally screams). We had spent many nights like this while I was in Patzún, but this had to be one of the most memorable.

Tia Güicha, as I fondly called her, is pictured here. She speaks…

Host Family and Homestay

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On the first day of classes, I got sick. I’d followed all the instructions about the water and hadn’t eaten anything suspicious, but there isn’t much to do about Patzún’s 2.250m of elevation. It had been barely more than 24 hours after meeting the family I was staying with, but before I could do much my host Marta was at the pharmacy with me, making me chicken soup and checking up on me in my room. Before even getting to know me, the whole family was mobilized to make sure I was doing ok. Initially, I thought this attention was because I felt unwell, but after I while I noticed they were genuinely interested in making me feel at home.

Every night at dinner the whole family would ask questions about my day, they’d help me remember the Kaqchikel I learned in class and ask me to talk about life in Brazil. As time went on, dinner became one of the most important parts of my day. I quickly became good friends with my host family and they were always excited to share stories and ask questi…

Kaqchikel For A Speaker Of... Not Spanish

I studied French in school. And ASL. And Mandarin. But, despite living my entire life in Florida, a state with a huge community of Spanish-speakers (including some in my own family), I had never studied Spanish. I applied to the Guatemala Field School thinking that I would not be accepted, as a direct result of this fact. 
When I was accepted, I arrived in Guatemala with virtually no knowledge of Spanish. I could read passably, but every time someone spoke to me I could return only a blank stare. I could say "Hola" and count to ten, but those weren't doing me much good.
My host family speaks primarily Kaqchikel, but they codeswitch frequently to Spanish as well. They have been accepting and patient as I have struggled through, with one memorable example being when I told them "I don't want your clothes" a week in. I was trying to communicate that I didn't want to be culturally appropriative by wearing their traditional clothing, after they asked. Anothe…