The Language Barrier

There is a saying: If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head but if you talk to him in his own language, it goes to his heart. I could really relate to this saying from the first day we arrived in the Uxuxubí community. We were greeted with smiles and hugs by the locals but before I realized, every member of my team was interacting with them in Spanish and I couldn’t say a word. Even though we knew our Mexican partners would be helping us with translations when interacting with the locals, it was right there that I sensed that my inability to communicate directly with them would cause problems for me in the flow of information. My fear of this language barrier became even more apparent in the following days when we had gotten very acquainted with the locals and I was very handicapped in any direct conversations. The people are super friendly and anytime I met them alone, they wanted to talk to me like they were able to interact with my other colleagues but I could only resort to smiles and hand gestures. Even though this was a challenge at times, it was also fun and a unique experience knowing that I could carry a message across without being able to speak so much of spanish.

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First day meeting with the teachers at the local school

The Human Centered Design approach was the central method of gathering information in this project and the ability to interact directly with the locals through interviews and conversations is one of the effective methods of getting the needed information. Most Often planned interviews, where someone is translating questions for locals, only result in limited information relating to only the questions asked, but unplanned direct conversations which occur through everyday interactions always reveal a lot of information about the community and the people and this was the case for most of my colleagues who could understand the Spanish language to some degree.


Jennifer and Liz interacting with the locals after a community workshop

Throughout our stay in the community, my colleagues had been helpful in translations whenever possible but it was during our last workshop with the community that I really felt the challenge in the language barrier. Whiles my colleague was trying his best to translate for me, there was too much flow of information from the very much engaged locals and I knew I was missing out on a lot of the ideas and comments that were being shared. As I stood there throughout the workshop, I realized that there are some things that simply can’t be translated to feel the same way and as beautiful as it is in the original language. It is indeed true that the conquest of learning is achieved through the knowledge of languages as the saying goes.


A community member giving his thoughts about the community and his favorite places


Interacting with the community during a workshop

At the end of our week stay in the Uxuxubí community, my colleagues and I had really formed a great bond with the locals, so much so that we felt part of them. This was a unique experience for all of us and one that will be part of us for a long time. As we sat in our van and waved our goodbyes to the beautiful people of Uxuxubí, I couldn’t help but reel on all the moments I could have bonded with these people even more on personal level but couldn’t because of the challenge of the language barrier. Indeed a smile takes you far but not all the way.


Lawrence with Don Manuel’s (a hard working member of the community) family


– Lawrence

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About Lawrence

A Ghanaian international currently studying a master degree in Geoinformatics at Aalto University. Strong interest in GIS and Geoinformation technologies. Accepts the challenge of working on practical problems to develop myself, learn new things and try to have fun while doing it :). Positive attitude and good sense of humor.

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