Lost in Translation

By Jessica Young

January 2019

In November, I was lucky enough to venture to Japan with my husband for a week. Neither of us had ever been to Japan and neither of us speak a word of Japanese. We didn’t plan much for our trip and figured we had Google translate and could wing the rest. I downloaded an app to teach myself Japanese a few months before going, but it didn’t help at all and I retained nothing. We were going in blind!

 

We did have a great time, but that first night we were both so overwhelmed by the language barrier! Not being able to verbally communicate made me think lots about the children I work with who also struggle with verbal communication.

 

Here are some of the things I thought:

1.    The importance of nonverbal communication

– When google translate didn’t work, we were able to mostly get by with pointing, smiling, nodding and headshaking at most stores.

– This made me think about how important nonverbal communication is with our kids and appreciate how well some of my nonverbal kids use other modes of communication!

2.    The power of technology

– Technology opens up new worlds for communication! We would have been lost without Google Translate and the railway apps that allowed us to search for destinations in English. This isn’t so different from the power of communication apps such as Proloque2Go or any other AAC device.

3.    Communication can be exhausting!

– It was exhausting trying to communicate with and without Google Translate. When someone was able to speak basic English, it was such a relief because despite our best effort, we were terrible communicators in Japansese!

– By the end of each day, we were exhausted (not just because we spent the day walking 30000 steps!). It was mentally exhausting working extra hard to communicate all day. I wondered if this is how the kids we work with feel at the end of each day?

4.    Patience makes such a difference

– Nearly everyone we met was wonderfully patient with us. There were a few shop keepers or assistants that were obviously very annoyed with our lack of Japanese, which is understandable. We were in Japan. But we appreciated so much when others took time to take things slow with us and work at our level. I know our kids would feel the same– it makes such a difference to have someone be patient with you. I will try to remember this always in my work!