Why don’t you understand me? Navigating bilingual relationships
Growing up in a place as diverse as California, I thought that I knew a thing or two about cultural and linguistic exchange. However learning Spanish in a foreign country has been an eye opening experience in two-way communication, in understanding and being understood.
You can break down most forms of communication into three parts: the emitter, the channel, and the receptor.
- The emitter is the party from whom the message originates.
- The channel is the space or medium through which the information travels, such as the air, the phone, the computer etc.
- The receptor is the party that receives the message.
So if there is an error in communication, it means that something went wrong in one of those three parts.
So what constitutes a communication error?
Upon having to send and receive all communication in Spanish, the usual frustrations arose when I couldn’t understand what was being communicated to me. At first, I would just say a simple, “What?” to try and begin clarification.
But what it took me time to realize that more important than saying that I didn’t understand was telling the other person exactly what part of the emitor-channel-receptor chain was affected so that they would know how to clarify.
Sometimes I simply didn’t hear the message because a bus went by or I wasn’t paying attention, sometimes I didn’t have one or more word used in my working vocabulary, sometimes I was familiar with all the words used but the person mumbled.
So respectively, to be able to help me understand, the person would have to either simply restate the message again, define the words or use synonyms, or speak more clearly. Being specific in saying exactly what you aren’t getting can be the key to successful conversations.