When I was working in Brazil in 2014, I had a challenging experience that turned into a form of play. I was attempting to communicate with a non-English speaker when I hit a wall. I wanted to say the word ‘guess’, but not knowing what word it could be in Portuguese, I applied my acting techniques to describe it.

Have a think for yourself for a moment…how would you describe the word ‘guess’ to a non-English speaker?

If a person speaks a language well, you can use the tool of ‘sounds like’ (pulling at your ear lobe) to indicate someone needs to guess within that parameter. If, however, you don’t have that available – as in the situation above – you are going to have to display the concept of the word through taking people through the process of ‘guessing’.
This self-referentiality means it is quite complex to perform – I was asking them to guess the word, when the word was ‘guess’.

For me it involved acting out the choice they had between 2 boxes, one of which contained a rabbit, and then taking a step back (in a way ‘going meta) to indicate I was looking not for them to choose ‘which box’, but for them to recognise I was describing the concept of ‘guessing’ which one.

We take for granted our native language, and yet when you change language, you can change the worldview. Some languages don’t have certain concepts, and do have others. The most obvious word I think of is that of ‘schadenfreude’ – a German concept for taking pleasure in the misfortune of another. You may well have seen this happen when an uncontrollable smile flashes across someone’s face upon hearing your bad news – and yet there is no English word to describe it. Instead we can import the German, and in a way appropriate it into English; not that difficult considering the connections between the two languages.