This I Believe

Kimberly - Russellville, Alabama
Entered on May 7, 2007

Understanding

Sound, cant, utterance, brogue, accent, word, voice. No matter where in the world you travel there is language. No matter where you are in your life there will always be someone who you can’t understand but you know, somehow, exactly what they are trying to say.

I have lived a sheltered life. I was rarely exposed to cultures other than the ones present in my high school and surrounding area. Spanish was the most exotic language I had heard and I learned to tune it out as soon as I learned to speak it.

Once I arrived at college, however, I felt a very real and very strong shock as soon as my ears were assaulted with the different languages of my peers. I stood and simply listened. My ears caught Hindi, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Nepalese, and languages I had never heard or even knew the sound of. I watched as the deaf students signed with nimble fingers and my hands itched to join in the conversation as I tried to mimic their signs and the sounds and voices of the students around me.

As I became more familiar with the campus and my mind became acclimated to the various pitches, words, and new sounds that surrounded me. I learned that it wasn’t the words that mattered. I found that I still didn’t know any more French than I did when I started, and I still couldn’t pronounce the guttural ‘g’ that broke up the translation of my name in Nepalese. But I did find that I understood what they were saying.

The way they spoke, the tone and pitch of their voice gave me all the information I needed to understand exactly what they were saying. I found that I didn’t always understand exactly what they said, but I did understand what they wanted. Somehow, the misunderstandings never lasted long and day by day the language barrier between us slowly went away. I could understand them perfectly even when they spoke their native language, I understood most of the jokes and understood conversations they had with others, even though I didn’t know the language. I found that I understood the people, not the language.

I believe it’s not the language we speak, or the words we say that conveys our meaning. I believe that if we observe, and see the deeper meanings in the way we speak, in the way we say something, it doesn’t matter if there is a language barrier.