When I was in high school I never took a foreign language class. The United States government wasn’t requiring the foreign language credit when I graduated and I never had plans to learn a second language. But life has a way sending us down the road we never planed. Four years after graduating I moved to Thailand and began to learn my second language.
As anyone does I made my share of mistakes in the new language and still do. I would often hear one word over and over and think I knew what it meant. I would use the word in my small and growing vocabulary in the incorrect way even when there was no way to mixup the words. One that took the longest was fruit and vegetable, I always would tell people I had pork and rice with fruit.
As I continued to learn Thai I found that literal translation too often don’t communicate the real situation but rather culture has to also be understood to gain a full understanding and translation of a thought. In English we say when we are giving it our all that “we are giving it 110%“. However in Thai if you are giving it your all “you are giving it a million percent“. That is a simple phrase to learn and know how to use properly. When I’m listening to a translator I listen if they are a literal translator or a cultural translator.
The phrase that always makes me think in English we say, “warm hearted” and “cold hearted“. Literally translated these two phrases mean the opposite in English to what they mean in Thai. In Thai culture to be cold hearted is to be respectful of others and relaxed and warm hearted means to be angry and hot tempered. I knew all these words early on but it took me time to understand what they really were saying and not just translating word for word for understanding.
When we communicate are we communicating correctly? I find often communicating with my wife (who is Thai) in Thai or English she understands the words I’m saying, but she still ask “what do you mean?” We communicate through words but more than the words we also communicate out of the situation around us. Often I feel others are seeing the world from the same perspective as I am and they understand the words in the correct context when the reality is we each see our own situation and find it difficult even with a spouse or loved one that we spend a lot of our time with to understand what they are seeing, hearing, and saying.
It doesn’t matter if I tell my wife she is warm hearted, because she knows the context in which I’m saying it (as long as I say it in English) and knows it isn’t an insult. Can we look at our situations and the world around us when we communicate? But a step further, can we break out of our own world and into the world of the person we are communicating with and understand what they are seeing and hearing so that we might communicate better? Today look into your spouse’s world as you communicate with them, see what is happening and find if there is a better way to communicate with them.