If you have ever attempted speaking a foreign language in a foreign country, you likely have made several mistakes. Pronunciation, tone, emphasis, and function in a sentence are the tell tell signs of one who knows their words, and those who do not. For instance, in Spanish the word soup and the word for toad are very close and can be confused. Sapo is the toad, and sopa is soup. When in a restaurant, it could be confusing when you order a bowl of sapo when you meant sopa. These mistakes are common, and often discerned by the people who speak the language you are learning, but sometimes they are not. Try again.
My friends who left American soil where they were born and raised, and began their family, to live in Uganda and work among orphans, and give training and education to both men, women and children shared the struggles of the language. When they went to the market to buy bottled water, they used the language of the tribe where the market was located to make their purchase only to be met with horrified faces at their request. The word for water, and the word for human waste was very similar, and they had accidentally chosen the latter word.
The best case scenario when you don’t communicate well is that the person to whom you are speaking is patient, and understands what you “meant” despite what you “said”, and corrects that mistake for you or overlooks it in order to understand. But when your words convey another meaning, and you are horrified, or hurt, or confused by their expression, your responsibility is to start over, and attempt again to say what you meant to say.
As my friends were telling me about their experience ordering water, they expressed their own frustration of having to try again and find the right word. Secretly, they hoped the other culture would understand them without getting offended, but that isn’t what happened. So they tried again and found the right word bringing ease and understanding to the ones they were purchasing from.
The truth is, all conversation takes work if you want to be understood. Sometimes, no matter how we meant our words to come across, they don’t convey the message we intended. Sometimes people are hurt by our words. Sometimes people are horrified at our answers, and sometimes they are just plain confused. It all takes time, and a commitment to stay in the conversation until understanding is reached.
Sometimes we expect others to just “get us” without us having to explain anything. We say things like “you know what I meant!” when in reality they didn’t. Or we want them to just overlook our words and understand what was intended. But….it doesn’t always work that way.
Often times our communications of love to one another get lost in translation too. When we think we are communicating it well and it is not received or reciprocated, we are again sitting in the position of one who needs to try again. A different approach, another word choice, an action, a physical gesture can all be “tried again” to convey the messages we mean to say. We can’t throw in the towel and get angry because they just don’t “get us.” We have to learn their language and communicate as best we can in it.
So for all of us who have stumbled in our communicating, said it wrong, or forgot to say it at all, I give this encouragement: Say it again. Try again. Stay in the conversation until what you are communicating is understood. Whether you are a counselor, teacher, friend, wife, husband, child, or relative by marriage, keep trying. Until you are flatly rejected, you have a chance to communicate well, take that opportunity.