Sonia’s Language Journal


A tidbit first:

The official language of India is Hindi but there are thousands of different dialects from different languages throughout the country. Trying to speak to a person get quite difficult with the language barrier and all but by using different techniques to communicate, understanding one another doesn’t have to be so tough.


Walking the streets of India you can hear the lively languages that are being spoken around you. So many of them are mother tongues that date back thousands of years and even new ones are created now, with slight changes in pronunciation. While trying to look for directions, which I find myself doing often, it gets quite confusing (on both ends) to understand a person when they speak another language.

I was wandering through the beach town of Canacona when I realized I had strayed a bit too far from my hotel room. The sun was setting and I knew it was going to get dark so I figured I should go back. The thing was, I didn’t have a clue where I was located. All around me were shops that looked similar to each other and the streets seemed to be the same so I decided to ask for directions. I knew that if I were to speak to someone that I would have to go in speaking clearly and concisely.  The storekeeper that I had asked had kind eyes and I asked him where I could find my hotel. He bobbed his head and didn’t answer. I was so very confused that I asked the question again. I immediately understood that he didn’t know any English. I tried another approach—I began to use hand gestures and said my words a bit slower. He reacted with a smile and a bit of laughter (I probably looked ridiculous waving my hands around and speaking in the slowest possible way) which had me laughing a little too. It didn’t work, though, and at this point, I had gained the attention of other shopkeepers. So, I tried another approach. I pulled out a pen and paper, drew the general outline of my hotel and nearby landmarks, and handed it to the man. He squinted to look down at it and his face lit up, “Aha!” He knew what I was trying to say to him. He pointed me toward the direction of my hotel and I was off on my merry way.

This story is one of many situations that I’ve come across during my travels in India—if you can’t say what you want then try and communicate it in a different way. Hand gestures didn’t work so much that time but then again I might have just confused the man more than I wanted. However, using techniques such as drawing could be helpful especially when the other person you’re talking to doesn’t understand your language. It’s important to be aware that not everyone speaks English and that it shouldn’t be a frustrating notion to try and communicate with someone who doesn’t know it. Being resourceful, open-minded, and patient is the key to adapting to an environment where language can become a barrier. And don’t get too frustrated! Laughter is a universal language.

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