The Language Files 4: Language barriers, or the fear of opening one’s mouth

It is never, ever easy trying to get by in a foreign language. I become very easily frustrated with my inability to articulate things which I could bulls-eye in a second in English. Thankfully so far everyone has been very kind and patient with me, and no-one mocks my accent. A language is the first and last thing that will prevent two people from properly communicating and connecting, and it’s an uphill grind working past it.

There seems to be a real fear that one’s personality won’t come across properly in a foreign language. Of course this is true to an extent – but I find that alot of a person’s character is communicated non-verbally anyway. I think the real problem is that once people are impeded by the language, everything else follows like dominos. Facial expression deadens, body language closes up or becomes less dynamic, and one ends up feeling a rather dulled-down version of oneself. People are petrified of appearing stupid by saying something wrong in a different language. But, the way I see it, I’ll look just as stupid if I stand by dumbly and say nothing at all, so I might as well try and push out a few sentences. And the Swiss are kind.

Personally, I find the less I speak of a language the more animated I become. If I’m trying to communicate sans actual words, I use far greater eye contact, a wider range of facial expressions and of course lots of highly dignified gesticulation. I’m more inclined to smile, as if to say, “isn’t this ridiculous?” When you really can’t get your point across verbally, it is important to not give the wrong impression in every other respect. A dead look of incomprehension in the eye is not welcome anywhere in the world.

Much as there are differences between the culture here and what I know back home, the gap is not so huge that I risk shocking or being shocked. It’s still Europe. It’s not a cultural minefield of unfamiliar social mores as somewhere like Japan might be to a European. So, on the whole, it’s not been too much of a problem. Also, everyone speaks English.

Anyway, I doubt any of my francophone friends here would describe me much differently to my anglophone friends. I remain as irrepressible as ever!

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One thought on “The Language Files 4: Language barriers, or the fear of opening one’s mouth

  1. Pingback: Hmm, on second thought… | The Fondue Files

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