Language Barriers

Personal true story (5-minute read)

“Oh my god, did you read about the winner-chill on the innernet?” one of the girls shrieked. “It’s like the biggest one of the error. Apparently the chill is even hitting eye-rack this year!”

Winner-chill? Innernet? I felt like they were speaking another language.

What was a winner-chill? Honestly, I thought it was when someone wins a victory and then gets to chill afterwards.

And innernet, as if there was an unconscious net on the inside of us, catching our thoughts and dreams.

Biggest of the error…eye-rack…alright, they’d lost me there. Lost as I felt, I kept listening to the conversation, hoping to pick up more clues as to what they were on about.

After about ten minutes of back and forth, I finally understood they were speaking about the cold spell that they’d read about online. It was one of the coldest of the century; even some generally hot countries in the Middle East were having an unusual temperature shock!

Winner-chill… winter chill. Right.

Innernet… internet. Oh goodness, I had a lot to learn.

Error was apparently “era”, and an eye-rack was not, in fact, a rack where people placed their eyes. It was a country, Iraq.

I felt so dumb.

For me, the English I’d learned was either through reading or watching legitimate news channels. You know, those channels where people sound “pretentious” just because they communicate to be understood. They don’t speak just for the sake of expression, rather their words have meaning.

In this situation, the language my schoolmates spoke was known as “common tongue”, a form of syntax and pronunciation that met the bare minimum requirement for English verbal communication.

At the time, I had not yet been educated in the use of this language, having come from a background where the English I’d learned at school was a watered-down version taught by teachers who’d studied it as a second (or even third) language.

At home, I came from a family of high-achieving academics who refused to “dumb-down” their vocabulary. I had no choice but to raise my standards lest I be sorely misunderstood by those in my physical vicinity.

At that age, my written expression had far outpaced my verbal ability to articulate. I would write about advanced phenomena that my conscious mind didn’t even comprehend, yet my mouth could not accurately convey what I knew I wanted to say.

Finally, by the age of twenty-five, a linguistically-gifted friend observed an interesting occurrence within my syntax: all my life, I had been speaking “translated English”. Every word I wrote mirrored the language used in textbooks translated from European languages, and those I spoke actually made more sense when reworded in another language.

It had taken me twenty-five years to realize why I’d spent my life misunderstood and displaced…

Language is like art, or music. Just because the creator (or speaker) knows the meaning behind what is portrayed does not necessarily mean that those on the receiving end can digest it.

You might like your drawing, or your symphony, but to someone else, that drawing might be a scribble; that symphony may be a cacophony.

Why limit ourselves to expression when we can work towards communication? If we are misunderstood, chances are, we’re using a different language.

Dialogue goes both ways, not just one speaking a “foreign language” and expecting to be taken seriously.

Learn more languages (or improve your English), you’ll find better ways to be understood.

Peace,
MG

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