understanding without language

How do you react when someone doesn’t speak your language? Are you one to become upset or want to know more? I think that language is key to how we function, but it might not always appear in the ways you expect it to.

I am currently on winter break which is always an interesting and frustrating time. I believe that it is frustrating because it is one of the few times when you are forced to have a conversation with yourself. Often when we work, study, or serve, we think about the tasks and deadlines; however, when you are lucky enough to receive or plan a break, you take a break from the noise.

In communication, noise is a distraction which may interrupt the reception of a message. This may include external interruptions (e.g. weather conditions, construction noises, using electronics, etc.) or internal distractions (e.g. physical conditions like hunger or temperature, thoughts, etc.). I believe that language could also be perceived as noise. We send messages across channels hoping that there is little to no noise, so that our message may be received properly. Maybe we become frustrated when there is a language barrier for these reasons.

While on break, my natural instinct is to panic because I am not needed nor are there urgent demands. Soon after, I go back to what I know and I spend time in conversation with myself. What I know is that I love to sleep, eat, watch tv, and dance. Additionally, my conversations with myself revolve around ideas. Ideas about the role of art in our lives, how we allow mistreatment of most for the satisfaction of few, and my path in this world. In combining my love of physical relaxation and mental puzzle making, I turn to streaming services. I watch a variety of shows and films; however, on breaks I love to balance the reality tv and baking shows with educational media. Documentaries are often included in this longing for more knowledge about artistic lifestyles, power dynamics (or inequity), and my purpose (where I most fit in).

The last documentary that I watched discussed happiness: where we see it and how we use it. I watch everything with subtitles for comfort and context. With the U.S. being a dominant English speaking country, accurate subtitles are hit or miss for other languages. Sometimes there will be preset subtitles to include the English speakers. Other times you just see a note in parentheses to tell you which language the person is speaking, but that is about it. In this happiness documentary, they interview people from various continents which I love. I enjoy this because most films that I watch focus on the U.S., Europe, and Australia. However, this one includes South America, Africa, and Asia.

In the non English speaking countries, interviewees provide their insight on happiness in their native tongue and there are absolutely no captions during those segments. Initially, I was irritated and considered switching to another film, but my curiosity and stubbornness kept me there. As I continued to watch, I became more attentive in my listening and I searched for visual context. Later, I felt ashamed by my response, because I reminded myself that the world doesn’t revolve around me. With most streaming services, available content will depend on your location and demographic. For this reason, I get a lot of content geared toward English speaking U.S. Americans. I was intrigued by this film because I’m not sure I needed to know the language to understand the message.

There is so much to communication outside of verbal or written language. Language barriers are beautiful in that they remind you that there is more to learn and see, though they might raise some uncertainty. Through studying the human body and inflections, you can observe the message. Language is more than an alphabet or character list. Language is seen through non verbal communication like touch or the tilt of the head. I think that language is key to how we function, because we are curious to understand one another and how we relate. However, it might not always appear in the ways we want it to…and that is more than okay.

CJ

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