We truly do not understand the value that language holds in our daily lives, until we travel abroad. Communication is easy when we are home because we know the language spoken very well. In fact, most of us have probably grown up with learning that language at home or school. However, as soon as we travel outside of our home countries we are exposed to an environment that might be completely different and a little uncomfortable. Most of that discomfort can emerge because of the language barrier. So, it is usually when we travel outside of the country that we realize how important language and communication is because it gives us a sense of direction in life– whats worse than being unable to communicate in a foreign country! We also realize that not everyone can meet our needs, in other words, not everyone can speak our native language and the only way out is to learn at least a little bit of the host country’s language. Having been here for two weeks, I have realized that I have traveled outside of my comfort zone because I do not know French as I do English. I have definitely thought more about the importance of language since I have been here.
Every Monday my colleagues and I have a meeting to set the agenda for the week. These meetings are incredibly important because it is the perfect time to ask any questions and receive clarification about the schedule. Our boss addresses everyone at the meeting, especially the interns. She assigns us tasks that will keep us busy throughout the week. I am grateful for these meetings because I know that my boss is extremely busy throughout the day and these meetings are the only time that I can either ask a question or for help.
My colleagues speak quickly because it is their own way of communicating with each other which is exactly where I ran into my problem. This time, my boss was assigning me a task individually, so I did not have the ability to turn to the other intern, Violette, for help. During our conversation she was speaking very quickly and therefore there were some things that I did not understand regarding the task. I thought I knew that I had to write a three page paper regarding cultural differences between the US and France on my own time. However, in our conversation she had specified a date and time for when the assignment needed to be turned in. When I got back from my four day weekend (due to a national holiday), my boss asked me if I could send her the assignment of which I did not have! I was so upset with myself for not asking a follow up question when I had the chance. I knew that it was my fault and I was so embarrassed for not completing it. The amazing boss that she is, she gave me an extension and reassured me that it was okay and that she understood the difficulty with the language barrier. After speaking with her, I made a mental note to ask her questions regarding deadlines if there was even the slightest uncertainty.
Here was my anecdote of a problem that I had at work this week with unclear directions due to the language barrier. I am sure that we can all relate to the difficulty of the language barrier especially in a professional setting. I wanted to write about this moment because I do not want people to feel alone in these situations. I think we all have to admit that with language learning we learn a lot of things. For example, we learn about the importance of asking questions, communication, and failure– we also learn to be more proud of ourselves especially when we are learning a foreign language in a different work environment. This internship, the French language, my failures and successes have taught me the importance of language and communication. I believe that once I return to the United States I will be more aware about the importance of communication and language and will thus be more grateful. I realize now that there are people in the US, whose first language is not English and that they have probably been through similar difficulties that I experienced at my internship with the language barrier. However, in times like this, we have to remember that learning a language takes time and patience.