Monday, September 14, 2009

Superpowers 101: Speaking another language

Your first thought when you read the title of this post was probably about a foreign language. Some of you might have even thought, "I've got that one covered." I bet most of you aren't fluent in the languages I have in mind.

The first language is Baby. I already talked about how confusing and frustrating it can be to try and communicate with children. I also admit that this is a learning process for everyone. But there are a few simple techniques to communicating with a small child that some woman just don't get.

I have spent the last 8 years living in Europe. I have spent many hours trying to communicate with people who didn't speak my language. If I went into a store and started touching stuff, a clerk might start lecturing me in French. I may not have had a clue what the words meant but I knew I had done something he didn't like. How did I know? By his tone and expression.

One of my biggest pet-peeves is when mothers smile and say "no, no, no" in the same sweet, sing-song voice that they say "Let's have some ice cream." They don't understand why their child doesn't listen. It is because he doesn't speak English! He does not know he has done something wrong. How would he? His mother is smiling and making "happy sounds". She must love it when he throws toys at her head.

Equally frustrating is when parents give long, drawn-out instructions to their 14-month-old. I admit that I tend to over-explain things to my kids. I am working on it. A few years ago I saw a news story about how to train your dog. The trainer explained that dogs can't understand much so owners need to keep their commands simple. I decided to try this with my son, who was about 18 months old at the time. I would say "sit", "no", "stop", "eat", etc. It worked. He learned very quickly what those words meant and what I wanted when I said them. In fact, it was so effective that I wished I had learned it 8 years earlier! Another unexpected side effect is that as I became more conscious of what I said, he learned to communicate more effectively. He has a better grasp of the English language at 3 than my other kids have now!

The second language a superwoman needs to learn is Man. I know that sounds cliche but it is true. Some women just don't know how to speak Man and it can cause serious problems and misunderstandings for them. Let me illustrate.

Several years ago, I was talking with some women at church about who could watch the nursery for an upcoming activity. I volunteered my husband. They all rolled their eyes and started laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked, slightly offended. "We have asked your husband several times and he won't do it." I was stunned. "I'll ask him myself." I said and we changed the subject.

That evening, I told my husband about my conversation. "They must have me confused with someone else. No one has asked me to watch the nursery at all. But I will do it this time." Then he said "Oh, wait. Were you talking about So-and-so?" I said yes and he shook his head. It turned out that these women had not actually asked him to do anything. They had said something like "How would you like spending the evening with a room full of little kids. Wouldn't you just love that?" When he replied honestly that no he would not love it, they simply walked away in frustration. He pointed out that no one had ever been specific about what they needed or asked him if he would be willing to do it.

When I explained this to the women involved they were even more disgusted. "See! He IS difficult! How were we supposed to know that he was like that!" I realized for the first time just how different men and women are when it comes to communicating. I grew up in a house full of boys so I have a pretty good grasp of the Man language. Still, I have to be careful or slip into Woman and run the risk of being misinterpreted or ignored.

The point is, we all could do better at expressing ourselves and understanding others. Just as I had to carry around a foreign language dictionary when I was living overseas, we all should carry a mental translation dictionary. Just taking a moment to stop and really listen to what is being said can make all the difference.


Amy said...

you are so articulate, i think the same things but wouldn't know how to write it in a way that would mean anything to anybody except myself!!!

Unknown said...

Yes,yes,and yes. I know just what you mean. Trying to talk to my husband is just like trying to talk to my dog. Just kidding. Really when did every thing get so complicated? Sometimes we just need to keep it simple. Mostly we really need to say what's on our mind. Stop beating around the bush. I love this blog.