**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Lisa Whalen’s book, Stable Weight: A Memoir of Hunger, Horses, and Hope, will be available from Hopewell Publications on March 2, 2021. Her writing has also appeared in An Introvert in an Extrovert World; The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield; Introvert, Dear; and Adanna, among other publications. Whalen has a Ph.D. in postsecondary and adult education and an M.A. in creative and critical writing. She teaches composition, creative writing, literature, and journalism at North Hennepin Community College, where she was selected Minnesota College Faculty Association Educator of the Year in 2019. In her spare time, she is an equestrian and volunteer for the Animal Humane Society. Learn more at her website, and follow her on social media @LisaIrishWhalen.
Whether we know it or not, language shapes our perception. I never thought much about how the language I speak and the way I view the world were connected until I took foreign language classes in high school. My Spanish teacher explained that translating wasn’t just word-for-word substitution. Unlike the equations I learned in algebra, where I could replace X with a number to answer a question like 4x + 2 = ?, I couldn’t always replace an English word with its Spanish equivalent to answer a question like, “How do you say _X ?”
Learning Spanish was my first introduction to the idea that each language has a unique structure. Studying Spanish taught me that some structural differences between languages are minuscule, like the English rule that adjectives should come before nouns, as in “the blue car,” versus the Spanish rule that nouns should come before adjectives, as in “the car blue.”
Later, when I began teaching college English classes, I saw how other structural differences between languages affect every aspect of communication, such as English verbs having up to 12 tenses to indicate time versus Hmong verbs having a single tense. English requires us to say I eat, I ate, I have eaten, I will eat, I will have eaten, to tell listeners when the action happened because Western culture perceives time as linear and moving toward the future, while Hmong speakers say I eat yesterday, I eat tomorrow, I eat before sunset because traditional Hmong culture perceived time as cyclical and anchored by the present moment.