Breaking the Language Barrier: Part I

The Language Barrier. It’s like a super clean glass door: you can’t see it with your eyes, but when you walk into it, it hurts. Badly. I’ve banged my head against the language barrier enough times to also know how to knock it down…with my handy toolbox.

Like any good handyman would know, to get past a closed door, it’s best to see if you can unlock it before attempting to break it down. Similarly, when I find myself in front of a language barrier I start with the two keys I carry in my toolbox to see if they might fit the lock. My first key is labeled English and easily unlocks the glass door so that I never hit my head against the English language barrier. My second key is labeled French, but because it is not as sharpened, sometimes it takes a little twisting to unlock the door of the French language barrier. I’ve always found keys fascinating, but language keys are the most extraordinary. Each one is unique with its own specific ridges, carvings, and details. I envy those who have so many they need a key ring.

When neither of my keys work and I’m rubbing my throbbing head after trying in vain to walk through the invisibly clean glass, I turn to a different means: hammers. I have Latin, Spanish, and Italian hammers. But imagine smashing down a glass door with a hammer rather than a key. It takes a lot more work and is way more clumsy, not to mention how tired you are afterwards. And that’s only if the hammer (or you) is strong enough to break through the door. Plus, not every hammer works on every door and sometimes finding the right one takes all your energy. That’s what it’s like having a conversation with someone who speaks a language in which you can only just get by. [Luckily for me, the Latin hammer works for several doors…but still, it is just a hammer and not a key.]

There’s also the bobby pin method. As a handyman who believes in using the traditional tools of my toolbox, I prefer not to cheat with a bobby pin to pick the lock, but sometimes even the best of us turn to Google Translate.

And when none of these methods work, when you hit your head against a language barrier that you can’t even recognize, when maybe all you have is your one key, when there’s a fire and you have to run out of a burning building, pure manual labor will be your best bet at knocking down that door. Universal body language – facial expressions, exaggerated hand gestures, even a simple smile – can save you in emergency situations.

Ultimately, however, no matter how sore you are from breaking down the door, there is no greater feeling in the world than finding yourself on the other side.

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