Breaking the Language Barrier: Part II

So you’ve just banged into that glass door. (You know the one. So clean that a bird would fly into it.) You can see everything happening on the other side, yet when you try to walk through, the glass blocks your way. You see people laughing and talking on the other side, but you can’t hear what they’re saying. Some might just walk away from this transparent barrier without caring, but if you’re like me then you’d press your nose up against the glass like a kid in front of a candy store, wanting nothing more than to knock it down.

The greatest challenge any expat – or simply any traveler – would understand is that of the language barrier. Best case scenario you venture to a country with the same language as that of your own, but even then your accent would immediately set you apart as a foreigner. So you’d rummage through your toolbox and consider your options: keys, hammers, bobby pins to pick the lock, or just your two fists and human force.

But isn’t there something you’re forgetting? Isn’t there something simpler than all those tools and tricks? As humans, we have a funny tendency to complicate what is simple. Sometimes the language barrier is simple. Sometimes we don’t need a toolbox at all. Throughout my year abroad and during my past travels, I have experienced many forms of the language barrier, and while many times I failed to knock it down, other times it was as simple as twisting a doorknob.

Maybe you’ll find yourself eating dinner with a host family in a microscopic village of Costa Rica, in a house 1/5 the size of yours, not understanding a word of Spanish but laughing hysterically with your madre, padre, and hermanos. Maybe you’ll become best friends with an Italian girl using only your basic French skills, sharing your culture, your secrets, and your food. Maybe you’ll kiss a French boy in the starlight underneath Sacre Coeur, overlooking a sparkling Paris.

My advice? The next time you slam into the transparent glass door that is the language barrier, simply try turning the knob. Better yet, unlock your door for others. If you open yourself to others, they’ll do the same, and you’ll find that sometimes you don’t even need a toolbox. Sometimes the door isn’t locked at all.

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