Taking down language barriers

Sorry, what are you saying?


If you are anything like me and love to travel, you have probably found yourself in a situation when you don’t speak the language of the country you are in.

It doesn’t even have to be when traveling. Whether reading something, meeting someone from overseas, or listening to music, hearing a language that we don’t speak might easily be part of our every day lives.

Over the years I have been trying to learn different languages, mainly because it fascinates me to understand how others express themselves, how they think and structure their thoughts into something they can share with the people around them. What is even more fascinating to me is that language is so much more than just words.

The other day I had a couple attending one of my yoga classes, who I haven’t seen before. They joined in and it was only afterwards that the girl came to me and said she truly enjoyed the class. Yet, she also said she was sorry if it looked like she wasn’t following at times, but English wasn’t her first language so she sometimes struggles a bit. Besides the fact, that there is no need to feel sorry about how her yoga practice might look to others, I was interested to hear that she struggled with English as I would never even have thought of it. To me, she didn’t look like she had difficulties to understand.

What really got me was what happened next – she told me that she and her partner were from Argentina and I couldn’t help it but pull out my dusty Spanish skills. So here I was trying to talk in Spanish to her and I think it kind of did the trick when seeing her face brightening up. Though what I loved about our clunky conversation was this: it wasn’t just my words that allowed me to talk in Spanish with her (that wouldn’t have gotten us through a proper conversation, because my Spanish is a little rusty you know), BUT through all those other little things we made it. By this I mean, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, eye contact, and so on. All those amazing non-verbal cues. I won’t get any more technical here, but basically what I am trying to say is this: you don’t have to speak – verbally – the same language and yet still can have a conversation / an exchange of thoughts.

No language needed

And I have seen it happening before so many times when language is not a barrier, but instead something new was created; almost like a new language. One of my favourite memories is when my partner and I went to see my family back in Germany for the first time together. He felt quite nervous as he – being from New Zealand and never left the country before – doesn’t speak any German and my parents, mainly my dad, don’t speak any English. And guess what? Those two had the best time ever! They would spend days together working out, going on tours, building things in the shed, and just having fun. I was AMAZED how natural it felt to both of them making up their unique words, sounds, gestures, drawings…and this is what is so special about it: it was simply two human beings communicating. There was no superior, no fear, no judgement, no “default” mode, no right or wrong.

It doesn’t matter what language you speak, where you are from, what you do, and why – at the end of the day all that matters is to be yourself and share that with others as well as let them share with you. Language only becomes a barrier if you want it to be one. There is always an option to create and find a language others understand.

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