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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Language issues contribute to culture shock

North Americans rely heavily on verbal means-talking to communicate. Much of our life centers on being able to converse with one another. We can accomplish things, reduce confusion and establish meaning by talking. But if you are not fluent in the language of the culture you plan to enter, it can be very frightening: you cannot converse, you cannot reduce the confusion you feel and you cannot make sense out of the situation. You feel like a helpless child. You may have to rely on someone else to talk for you-an interpreter-which compounds the embarrassment and humiliation. Perhaps you try to use the language. You ask the merchant for a soft drink and you get a fish head. You are so humiliated you walk out with the fish head.

So what do you do?

• Relax, people expect you will not know everything.

• Relax, people will admire you for trying to learn and use their language.

• Relax, learn two or three words a day. Use them and it will surprise you how much you have learned in a week, month or year.

• Relax, because others like to see that Westerners are not as high and mighty as they are perceived to be.

• Relax, lighten up and laugh at yourself. Most situations are not life and death ones, so don't treat them as such.

Duane Elmer, Cross Cultural Connections

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