I’m not proud to say that after 4 years of high school French, and 2 years of college Spanish, my ability to talk in any language other than English is pretty much non-existent. I can understand more than I can say and my horrendous pronunciation limits my ability to say much at all. So even though I can’t speak French and our friends didn’t always have a great command of English (though consistently better than our French), we communicated.
We each wanted to understand and be understood. We not only listened closely by turning our full attention (and our bodies) toward them, we also watched them closely as they spoke. We, as Susan Heathfield says, listened with our eyes. We attended to the way they said things, how they emphasized words, and what they looked like while they were speaking. Fortunately, when you’re in the company of someone who is from Basque country, following expression is like taking candy from a baby! Our friend’s wonderful sound effects and expressive hand movements helped us understand even when we couldn’t grasp a single word. But even with those who were less demonstrative, it was easy to notice when they laughed as they said a phrase, or when they looked serious and concerned. We got the message.
So really multi-cultural communication isn’t that different from any other type. It’s not necessarily the words we use, but the tone and accompanying body language that provide the meaning. I can say “fine” to my husband’s question, and he knows if I mean “yes, that’s a good idea” (smile/nod/even tone) or “I’ll do it but I’m not happy” (annoyed/questioning look, lowered voice) or “I can’t believe you’d even think that (rolling eyes, negative tone)!”
Huh. I never before realized how much we depend on our eyes to hear.
Your comments, please!