The use of language is one aspect of human communication which makes us unique from other animals. Language allows us to put forth our ideas but it also grants us the accessibility to receive information from others. I argue that language can be compared to a double-edged sword. It has the ability to enrich an experience through deeper understandings of a situation, beyond the basic perceptions we pick up from our senses. Yet, our dependency on languages that we are familiar with, is perhaps slicing off the opportunity to communicate with others beyond our linguistic understandings. Therefore, as an international student, the skill of communicating across cultural borders is essential.
Through personal experience I can agree that multilingualism has its advantages of broadening your “communication points” and being able to interact with people beyond your primary culture. For an example, I have spent 9 years of my life living in french-speaking countries or known as “francophone” in those areas. Being able to speak English helped me through the basic communication with the local people but it only established a “meet-me-halfway” mechanism since English was in most cases not their first language either. Therefore, we both had to rely on imagination to fill in the gaps and could not form any in-depth communication. On the other hand, being able to speak French deepened my communication with the locals and also helped me to form social bonds. Without a language barrier, it allowed us to express ourselves fully. Therefore, being proficient in a language allows thorough communication, beyond transactional purposes which adds a significance in our experiences.
There is one particular experience that I had during the time I was in Belgium which really forced me to be “culturally smart”. We had moved into our new house and my mother decided to invite the neighbours. The parents were fluent in french, flemish and english and had no trouble communicating with myself or my parents. However, their son spoke next to no English and I could hardly introduce myself in French. For both of us, it was frustrating and at times embarrassing as everything we tried to communicate was returned with blank stares or shrugs. However, we found one medium which we were both able connect with and that was our love for animals. I had 2 hamsters at the time and I remember placing one of them into his hand and he exclaimed “très mignon” which now I understand to be “so cute”. Yet, even at the time with my poor french, I was still able to understand his enthusiasm. After that I had asked him if he had any himself by pointing at the hamsters. He shook his head but barked and imitated a dog which came through to me clearly.
As seen in cases like this, I realised that language may limit the cross-linguistic understandings but it does not necessarily stop people’s wills of communicating with eachother. So maybe, communication does not only come with the cost of proficiency in the language but also the will to want to communicate and connect.