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04/14/2013

On Communication

The ten days I spent with my brother gave me a new perspective on language and communication.

So far, I've spent three months focusing on learning Arabic. I've tried to find the right words and the right phrases to get the right meaning across. I want to be able to speak Arabic so that I can communicate with the locals.

Yet in ten days I watched my brother talk himself out of three traffic tickets, bargain with hotel owners, barter with Berber tradesmen, have full conversations with my host parents (who speak no English or Spanish), talk with mechanics (twice!) to get our car fixed and get deals at the car rental place.

He often asked me to tell someone something, yet my first reaction was often, "I don't know how to say that." He'd say, walk over to them, and in a mix of Spanish, English and gestures, he'd get the point across.

I was thoroughly impressed by his determination to talk about things that were difficult, complex and fun. He didn't care that he could barely say "thank you" in Arabic (though he did learn that one by the end of the trip).

This whole experience simply made me reflect. I've placed such an emphasis on language. And well, to be fair, that's what my program is about. And my long-term goals involved speaking Arabic, not just communicating with Moroccans today. But still, I was able to re-realize that language and communication are not the same thing.

They are definitely not the same thing. Language often facilitates communication, but communication does not depend on language. We can smile or wave and never speak a word. We can say many, many words, yet through our body language convey the exact opposite of what we mean. We can get caught up on focusing on how to say certain things, that we forget that we can say many things without every having a common language.

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