Two Language Barriers... at the Same Time

Updated: May 14

Dealing with two language barriers... at the same time

Being able to communicate is something most people take for granted. Usually we don't have to think about our words or delivery when everybody speaks the same language, but what if you didn't... Then what would you do?

In many countries there are many languages commonly spoken: mother tongues and the language of the colonizers. A lot of times the language of the colonizers became the respected language. People are actively discouraged from speaking their mother tongue and some parents have even foregone teaching the mother tongue to their children. Colonizers stripped people of their language in attempt to oppress and control them. If you didn't know... language is a big part of history and culture.

When traveling to other countries I try to learn the mother tongue language. It's sometimes MUCH harder than the language of the colonizers which is often Latin based (English, French, etc). The mother tongue is usually spoken by the majority of the population and in comfortable settings. Those are the conversations I want to be a part of.

After five months in Senegal I was able to pick up enough French to be able to communicate. I made sure not to lose it during my year in Korea and it's paying off. Knowing French (even though it's broken af) has helped me with Kreyol here in Haiti. Kreyol is honestly one of the easiest languages I've studied. The language is written the way it sounds... in English. There also aren't a lot of conjugations which is usually the hardest part of learning a language for me. Getting all the vocabulary is easy, but using the right verb tenses? That's a different story.

Since arriving I hit the ground running. I am halfway over the first language barrier with my French and continuing to climb over the Kreyol barrier. My French vocabulary base is pretty solid so now I'm focusing on speaking grammatically correct, adding accents in writing, fixing pronunciations, and other more tedious things. In Kreyol I'm just tryna form a complete sentence. Writing has been easier because I can take my time to think about what to say, but speaking? Whew. I literally have to think about every word and it takes a good little minute for me to finally get my thought out 😅

Trying to learn multiple languages at the same time isn't an easy task, but my friends and coworkers have been the real MVPs. I have people that I speak French with exclusively, Kreyol with exclusively and some that practice both with me. Having people that are patient and willing to read through a bunch of mistakes has helped me TREMENDOUSLY. On a daily basis I will begin writing a sentence in Kreyol and realize I don't know how to finish it and then switch to French. Sometimes I can't finish it in French either and end up ending in English. The biggest thing is at least practicing what I know and then getting a lesson on the translations for the rest.

Dealing with multiple language barriers at the same time is definitely a daily brain exercise. Being able to switch between English, French and Kreyol all in the same conversation or within a few minutes depending on the situation. Talking to a street vendor then turning to a friend to speak French to try to get a translation and then not understanding the translation and resorting back to English. I’m hoping to be at least conversational in Kreyol within the next few months and to continue to refine my French so stay tuned for updates!

How would you tackle dealing with multiple language barriers at the same time? Let me know in the comments.


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