Posted on

It’s hard to get your message through when you don’t speak the language

For me, the time has come to face up to my inadequacies in language. I can no longer disconnect myself from others because I speak only one language.
I am at this writing in a small village in Paraguay, South America. It is nearing the hour of midnight. The column I write for The Corydon Democrat ‘ this very column ‘ is due tomorrow at noon.
Not to worry, I say to myself. Though the hour is late, surely I can relay one story from the many I have experienced here in the homeland of my fellow travelers. The wonders of today’s technology will bail me out of this tight schedule. With the aid of a fax machine, I can meet the deadline for print.
Reality hits me as I call the hotel clerk to ask if they have a fax machine guests may use. The man at the desk answers in Spanish. I try to explain I speak only English. He inquires if I speak German, and I must admit I can only speak one language, and it is English. The response is silence, and then a click of the phone as it is hung up on the other end of the line.
Most often the lack of linguistic skill on my part is a burden for the other person, a foreign-speaking newcomer to Indiana. Now the tables are turned, and I am missing out on being taken seriously or even considered because I don’t speak the local language. I am cut off from involvement with those around me, and I can’t function.
I imagine the inability to fulfill responsibilities and use skills are what our Latino friends too often feel in Indiana. The tables are turned, as the saying goes.
I have experiences and ideas to share. I said I would send a written story, and no one at the all-important hub of operation called ‘the front desk’ at the hotel wants to deal with my lack of local language skills.
It is often good for me to step out of my comfort zone where I am in the mainstream of understanding. It can be frightening to find oneself cut off from conversation in a foreign environment. It may only be midnight as I face such frustration, but it comes as a wake-up call for me.
Indiana is one of the states with a high ratio of new immigrants to older established citizens.
We could be laying the groundwork for a future with inadequate working and social conditions. If we as neighbors, customers, employers and service providers can’t talk with each other, how will we ever understand each other enough to become friends? How can we manage the opportunities and problems of the future if we don’t allow every available experience and skill to be used?
Tonight my dilemma is I can’t get my column out because I can’t get the front desk to understand my request. Tomorrow, someone else in Southern Indiana may find their issue is the misunderstanding of a medical diagnosis or a traffic rule. These have real serious consequences and undermine a sense of confidence. We simply must be aware of the need to share a common language for common understanding and activities.
If one doesn’t know what is going on in the community, how can they participate? The local newspaper carries a real responsibility. For several years, Christina Gettelfinger has written a bilingual column for The Corydon Democrat. The information she shares is in English and Spanish. We owe her a big thanks. The hope is that the stories and articles help you attend events and voice opinions. Let us get our heads together and figure out how to expand upon this beginning. Let’s learn the language of others.
In the meantime, if I get home before this column does, you’ll know I couldn’t find a bilingual person who could make up for my lack of skills or the hotel didn’t have a fax machine. Neither condition is an acceptable option in this day and age.

LATEST NEWS