Describe a time when you engaged with a different culture and the strategies you used to communicate effectively. Reflect on how this influenced your thinking about language and communication.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
I first saw this quote about 3 to 4 years ago, and that’s when I set myself the goal of trying to learn the language of the place that I live in as much as possible. I learned french, Italian, and some minor german during my time in Switzerland, which allowed me to communicate with people better than I could have in English. Even though I could not entirely manage to have conversations with these people in their languages, I was able to form deeper connections.
By knowing some of someone’s language I was capable of forming closer friendships with people in nearby countries, like Italy, and at some point was capable of having a fluent conversation in the Italian language. In moving to Japan, I realized the major advantage I had by knowing the languages of most of the countries around me, as well as the country I was in. When I moved to Japan not only did I go through the struggle of having to learn to communicate and get around, but I also saw first hand the struggle of new people arriving to Japan and going through this same struggle, as well as seeing how much tourists would have a hard time finding places due to this language barrier. I personally have helped multiple tourists as well as people that have recently moved find their way around or somehow get over this language barrier by accompanying them and using my minor skills in the Japanese language. I think these experiences show two separate examples of intercultural communication, and the true effect and difference between speaking in a tongue someone understands rather than their own.
I can give countless examples, but I think the times I have guided tourists to specific places in Tokyo and Yokohama has been one of the experiences where I can really notice this difference. I’ve helped large amounts of tourists and spoken with many others, but when I can speak their language is one of the times when I feel like I have truly developed a connection with them. I have met multiple Spanish speaking tourists looking to find Yoyogi park, or Harajuku, and have taken the time to lead them to their destination while engaging in conversation, and we can always bond over our cultures, and how different it is here in Japan compared to Europe, or Latin America, but most times there will be something we talk about that is new to one of us, whether it’s about their culture, mine, or the Japanese, there is always something new to learn whenever I talk with these people. I have also had the opportunity to meet some French people whom I have bonded with and still remain in contact with after meeting them outside of a Family Mart in Shibuya.
Anything from some missing change, needing directions, or asking someone for a recommendation on a place to eat or drink, can be enough to make a connection. The most significant connection I have made during one of these strange adventures through Shibuya was a British guy named Ash, he came from the UK on holiday, for a week or so. He was sitting, waiting in front of a sign, while I was with a friend looking for some redhead people (This requires an explanation: I have an Instagram account dedicated to taking pictures with redheads, as I am one). As we walked past him I happened to see his hair, and wasn’t able to tell whether he was a redhead or the light behind him made it seem that way. Long story short, we all looked at him for a bit too long, he gave us a strange look, and so we approached to explain. We ended up giving him directions to a pub, and he invited us a long since he was on his own. We learned about his life, what he did for a living, his hobbies, his childhood, what he would do on an average day back home, and he learned about ours. We talked for hours and actually formed quite a deep bond. We spoke about our traditions, our culture, and how different it was from what we saw in Japan. I spoke to him and could relate to his experiences as a tourist around Japan, since I did the same tours and visits as him and had the same thoughts. I think he was one of the few people I met where language wasn’t an issue, English being his first language and me being able to speak fluently, adjusting to language wasn’t a problem.