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Essay

Communication channels

By Samantha Loong

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When anyone tells me they’ll be travelling around Japan for the first time by themselves, I try to send them a book I bought when I first came here. It contains drawings and phrases in Japanese and English, which you point to in order to communicate. I also have another book that just contains hundreds of photos of different objects and locations that travellers can point to. There’s the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words ― but what if you don’t have the picture, the phrasebook or a dictionary on you?

It’s just as well that you’ve got … well, YOU. Dictionaries interrupt the conversation flow between people, can be cumbersome, and are sometimes misleading. So when it comes to communication, you can still say a lot with what you have.

For example, you can use your intonation, and your hands. If someone comes up to you on the street and speaks to you in a language you don’t understand, but is pointing to their wrist and it sounds like they’re asking a question, they’re most likely asking you for the time. Intonation is especially important on the phone, as people need to know by your voice if you’re asking a question, getting angry, or being polite.

Facial expressions and body language also play a very crucial role in communication. When explaining a word, phrases like "It’s the opposite of," "It’s like," or "It’s when," are useful in many cases. But what would be the most efficient way of explaining "impatient"? You could say, "It’s when you don’t like waiting for a late train." But if you stood with your arms crossed, while repeatedly looking at your watch with an annoyed expression on your face, it very quickly becomes a lot clearer what "impatient" means.

My students who have lived overseas are often the ones who have been in situations where they need to communicate something urgently. They understand that if you’re trying to explain that you’re going to throw up, gesturing is going to get the point across a lot faster than reaching for a dictionary. Communication is about being flexible and it doesn’t mean you need to have lived overseas. The elderly gentleman who runs the tofu shop in my neighbourhood, for example, always uses gestures to communicate if anything is unclear.

When learning a language, speaking is of course important. But it’s not just about putting words together using the correct grammar. Using all forms of communication is also essential. It’s not realistic to remember every single word that you’ve learned, so don’t feel bad if you forget. But do remember this: Not only is help always at hand, it’s also on your face, in your voice, and on your body.

コミュニケーション・チャンネル

コミュニケーションの手段として言語が使えない場合、あなたならどうするだろう? 言語を使わずに伝えたいことを相手に伝える方法は他にもあるのだから、状況によって柔軟に対応しよう。

The Japan Times ST: May 6, 2016

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