Saturday, July 9, 2011

Haiti Journal: A Language Barrier, Not A Communication Barrier Part 1

Today for my Critical Thought Tuesday post, I would like to ask the question "can you communicate without language?"  My answer is "yes," but can you argue against my answer or add on to it?

One of the most significant things that I learned on this trip is that communication is not only verbal. You can communicate through facial expressions and body language. I would also recommend using sign language (ASL or even made up signs) as much as possible. Some of the other communications skills that I utilized included smiling, singing, modeling a behavior, using images, and doing crafts (or other projects when working with adultus). Being able to keep in mind that some similarities transcend culture is also huge.

Sign Language
Though I do know sign language (a mix between PSE and ASL), I do believe that anyone can use sign language skills in a foreign country. Learning some signs and the concepts behind them translates from English to Creole (and I would argue from any language to any other). Using signs allowed me to learn Creole words such as water, airplane, cow, chicken, walk, love, me, you, and marriage. I was also able to talk to a deaf woman at the airport who had just been working in a deaf orphanage in Haiti. It seemed like ASL and Creole sign language were pretty similar (because in ASL you don’t fingerspell anything but proper nouns, although I am not sure how initialized signs and varying alphabets work). ASL also helps you to understand the use of universal facial expression.

Facial Expression
In the airport on the way back we spoke with a man named Juan. He was from Haiti but has lived in the stated for about 13 years. He gave us a mini Creole lesson and explained how facial expressions are extremely important to Creole. I asked how you say “what?” in Creole, though I don’t remember the word, I will not forget the facial expression that goes with it. I now know I was asked “what” by one of the girls many many times because of the face she used. He also explained the importance of smiling. It not only tells others that you are nice, fun, happy, safe, but also that you might think that they are safe, cute, fun, or that you want to be friends.

Modeling was extremely important. We taught the kids “hook tag” by showing them how to play. I first explained the game to three other people who spoke English and we showed the kids what to do. The kids understood and were then able to translate what they saw into words for the younger kids. Modeling worked when I was teaching all the kids to make bracelets from embroidery floss or some of the older children the process of making paper beads.
The kids loved to work on crafts but the adults were great at taking over when we were modeling a way to build some part of the chicken coup.

In addition to sign language and facial expression, there are many aspects of life that transcend culture, especially when working with children. One way to relate to people is sharing photographs of friends, family, or even a food/cooking magazine. I will list some in a future post. For now, what are some aspects of life that transcend culture?

My artwork inspired by Haiti
Art is certainly a universal form of communication.

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