One Meaning, One World by Cecilia Hiebner

How can I show my Spanish students the various similarities all languages share? In Spanish we say paz, in French one says paix, in Italian you see pace, in German one finds as frieden, and in English the translation is peace.  These words differ in spelling and in pronunciation, but all contain only one definition that the entire world understands. “This is amazing!” I tell them.

Translating words has always been one of my passions since I was in fifth grade. My interest has been persistently focused on searching for the connection of words and phrases among languages. So, I grasped for every opportunity I had to assimilate one, two, or three words coming from the English language, which had been known in the world as the “the business language.”

My first practical experience started when I was in fifth grade. I thought, the first eleven years of my life had been uneventful in my catholic elementary school until I encountered the new student who spoke to me in a language that was not Spanish. I could not understand what she was saying, but by looking at her facial expression and body language, I could guess what she was telling me.

She appeared to say, “Hi” followed by a chain of words I could not figure them out. For the first time in my life I was hearing sounds with an unfamiliar tune,

So, my first reaction was to look at her a little bit puzzled, but her friendly smile was telling me, “I want to be your friend.”

Finger pointing, smiles, and hand gestures were all we could do in our early conversations, but this time we spent with lots of laughter, especially when we misunderstood the meaning of the words. It was fun teaching each other.

Our fifth grade teacher, Sor Maria de Sales told us to sit next to each other, perhaps she knew in advance the good friends we will become. After a few months, we started communicating in both languages. Whallah!

“¿Cómo te llamas?” I asked her.


“¿De dónde vienes?”

And in her broken Spanish, she shared that her father was a businessman who was being transferred from far away London to Quito.  We became classmates for the next three years, and this was the beginning of a longtime friendship.

Meeting this new student opened up for me the opportunity to practice what I knew about the English language, to understand more about myself, to connect with others who came from other cultures, to conclude that the word peace has three different spellings and one definition, and to discover the abilities I didn’t know I had.

Years have passed, and I’m still searching for word meanings and for word links among cultures and among people. The “translator” in me will never leave.


Author: Jeff

I teach English at Westside High School and Composition at Metropolitan Community College. I have been an online editor for Fine Lines since we revamped to Wordpress some time in 2009.