Pantomiming, Google Translator and the rest; your tools for communicating in a foreign land

“Smiling and kindness are universal languages.” 

There is the physically disabled or physically challenged or people with disabilities or people with special needs. Yeah yeah. The euphemism never gets to finish. Times and times again, a new “better” one is formed. You know many of us are challenged or have special needs too, just like when you find yourself in a foreign land. How interesting it is when you have to converse with someone but the language barrier stands in the way. I always feel disabled when I find myself in situations I cannot communicate with people due to our lack of a common language. Should we all speak a common language? No, I think not.

For other reasons, when you understand you cannot communicate, you just turn away. But it gets more mentally challenging when you have to speak or communicate. I think it’s even more challenging when you know a few words, and you are trying to use them to explain yourself. More like pantomiming. When you speak and you have to use more gestures, including your face to explain yourself.

Situations like these fuel my motivation to learn the language of the land I find myself in. Especially so I can speak to the cafeteria staff at my university here, who always speaks Deutsch (German) to me, and cracks jokes which we all burst into laughter together. Do not mistake Deutsch for Dutch, the latter being language spoken in the Netherlands. Not that I understand the jokes, but you just feel what she says is hilarious. And probably when I laugh, she even laughs harder knowing that I am laughing despite not knowing what she said. Although in these times, I do not feel a great sense of urgency to learn.

However, when I find myself in a situation I need help with, one in which I have to speak and understand what the other person is saying is quite challenging. Like the saleswoman at a shop I visited some days ago. I was trying to pantomime with my hands and legs, that I need a lock for my bicycle. She unfortunately understood it for some toilet detergent. If I cannot make someone understand cycling through pantomiming, how poor can I be when I play the game of charades? It made me chuckle when I always think about the encounter with the lady.

In other instances, I have to use Google Translator to do the translation. It is almost like the Spanish guy in the old hilarious TV Series Mind Your Language, who always uses his English phrase book and ask people to point to what they are saying.

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Stuff like these also shape the way I learn a new language. Many languages have different first lessons. While most start with self-introduction, the lesson that comes after matters a lot. The ways I learn a new language is different from what is given in textbooks. I shape lessons by my current need. I learn the words to use in typical conversations I might get into; classroom conversations, food/kitchen/restaurant convos, house vocabs and so on so forth. For example, because I am always often taking one lesson or the other in a classroom, the typical sentences I will like to learn will be, “I have a question, I do not understand, what time does class ends?” You know, what that you will almost always typically use all the time in that situation. Are you hungry, I am full etc. The key is to try to speak what you want to say for the moment, not learning things you wouldn’t be needing to use any time soon in your first few weeks of learning a language.

I currently live in Germany and face these motivating barriers to learn Deutsch. Have you found yourself in a situation where you want to learn a language just so that you will connect with many people around you? Do you have a personal way of learning languages, or you use Duolingo or follow what the teacher says in the classroom only? I am curious to know what languages you are learning and why you are learning it?


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