During my junior year of undergraduate study, I spent four months living and learning in Latin America. The primary language for most of the cities I visited was Spanish. Prior to living there, I spoke very little Spanish. In order to exist and thrive in these Spanish speaking cities, I needed to first adopt an understanding of the language.
Despite the obvious fact that communication is easier when the people exchanging conversation speak the same language, it is also made more intimate and personal when the gesture is made to meet someone where they are comfortable. In this case, this comfort zone would be speaking the same language. As a foreigner to the culture and to the people that live in Latin America, I was already in an oppressive situation. By communicating with the residents in their own language, additional social barriers of entry were avoided.
One of the local students I befriended in Argentina invited me to his childhood home on one long weekend. There I met his mother, father, brother, and some of his childhood friends. Only one of them spoke any sort of English, and all of them were quite wary of the cultural differences that divided us. By speaking to them in their own language, regardless of the struggle I faced in making myself understandable, everyone became visibly more comfortable in my presence. I became less of a stranger to them and more of a friend. In recent conversation, I was told by my friend in Argentina that his mother still speaks about me and prides the fact that we were able to communicate in Spanish.
This tactic of finding commonality extends past social gatherings and chance encounters. It is also a very important facet of global, professional communications as well. Whether a resident of NY is exchanging conversation with an individual in Alabama, or a person in Australia is conferencing with someone in Japan, language, dialect, and social cues carry a lot of significance in how professionalism is perceived. Speaking multiple languages in professional environments can lead to many positive experiences individually and among coworkers. It is easier to develop close and trustworthy relationships to coworkers and clients when slang and conversational language is used. This can also help to avoid confusion or a loss of meaning in translation between languages or dialects.
In the next year I will be moving to Paris for graduate school, where I will again be faced with language barriers. My prior experience with becoming familiar with new languages in cultures affords me the added comfort of knowing that my transition will be a worthwhile struggle. I welcome the opportunity to communicate and relate to new people in a language they are most comfortable with, and I welcome the career advances that such an experience will afford me.
I am appreciative to Voice Talent for their vested interest in helping students to attend higher education institutions.