I know no Portuguese and many Brazilians know very little English. This is challenging for me. For example, buying groceries in a large grocery can be intimidating. Today I got in line to check out, not realizing that there was a big sign that said a maximum of 20 items for that lane. I had already placed my 40+ items of groceries on the conveyor belt. Trying to explain was not successful at all. However, I guess the check-out person could see how confused I was because she went ahead and processed my groceries.
Having experienced several communication problems over the past three weeks, here are some lessons I have learned.
Review your skills at charades. I have found that if you do enough describing with your hands and arms, you have a good chance of getting your message across. One of my students brings to our sessions an artist’s sketchbook which he uses to visually help me understand what he means. This usually works well. Nodding my head and smiling when I understand the drawing will seal the completion of his message.
Another way to communicate in a language you do not understand is a booklet like Point It: The Traveler’s Language Kit . This resource has hundreds of photos of everything from “toothbrush” to “snow chains.” Just point to what you are looking for and the picture book approach has completed the communication.
If all else fails, seek out a person nearby who speaks English and ask him or her to interpret. For example, in the grocery store episode, a man overheard us and, since he spoke English, was kind enough to come to our rescue. After the explanation about our ignorance, the woman checking us out understood and smiled as we left. Better to be ignorant than rude!
One of the benefits of learning to deal with language barriers is that after I get back to the United States, I hope to be more sensitive to the nuances of English and more aware of the person’s reaction as I speak. I certainly will be more aware of visitors who may not speak English and will welcome the opportunity to help them.
So one way to improve your interpersonal communication here at home is to visit a country such as Brazil where English is not common; you will learn a new culture as well as becoming a more compassionate and aware communicator.