KulturImPuls

Culture, Communication and Learning for thriving in times of change

The universal language

Posted by TabeaSano on 12. June 2014

ReisenThe key of sharing and collaborating on ideas is of course communication. And for communication not to lead to misunderstandings the same set of rules and values is important, which in a simple way can be just the language. As I am writing this blog entry in English it is obvious that I did so, because it will be understood by a wide range of people. It is not my first language and after years of using English and even being able to have serious conversations using it, I still feel that there are certain things I will never be able to express as I wanted to. The other way around, I feel more comfortable talking e.g. about Design Thinking in English, because I learned and worked with it solely in English.

I had the opportunity to spend some time in South America this year. This was something new and challenging to me. I’ve been to Asia quite a lot, but South America has an totally different, interesting cultural context and I had fun exploring it. One of the things I noticed quite soon was that although a lot of people spoke English, a lot of people did not. This is the same in a lot of Asian countries, but in contrast to Asia, it is not perceived as a lack, if you do not speak English. It was even the other way around that I felt I did not make enough effort to communicate in Spanish! I had plenty of situations when even amongst travellers the common language was not English but Spanish and I had a hard time keeping up, because my Spanish is beginner’s level at best.

It was kind of an eye opener to me. Until now I somehow expected everyone everywhere to speak English. It might have been a bit arrogant of me to expect that, because besides English there are other languages such as Spanish and Chinese that is spoken by a large number of people. I do not want to imply that we should all switch to a different language, but just looking at the development, we might have to think about other languages than English. Who knows what will happen in a few years if you look at the development of the Spanish speaking population in the United States, which is constantly growing. Or the great amount of Chinese speaking population on earth. This is an appeal for being open minded to other languages than English and making an effort learning Portuguese, German, French, Japanese, you name it. Do not automatically expect others to speak English, but agree on a language that is most comfortable for all.

P.S.: I had the most fun conversation with a Belgian guy, who did not speak English, but Spanish and French. I speak neither Spanish nor French, but English and still, we somehow talked about all kinds of things. We agreed on a mix of Spanish with English and a few words of French and voilà, we were having a great time talking

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