All animals have a way of communicating with others of their species, from mating dances to territorial proclamations. But we humans are the only ones with language. It’s part of how we snagged the top of the food chain and made the world our own.
And yet, with about 7,000 languages used worldwide, many of us don’t even speak the same one.
Linguistic and humanities researchers use similarities found throughout languages to draw conclusions about what makes us human. Still, for many of us, it’s the differences between languages that are of consequential significance in our everyday lives.
Language is integral to our ability to connect with others, and as it turns out, speaking the same language contributes much more than a shared vocabulary.
The Importance of Language in Connecting With Others
Mutual Understanding and Information Gathering
Most people are no stranger to the role language plays in their everyday lives, but one rarely considers the full extent and reason for it.
Language is at the heart of our ability to not only communicate but to understand and be understood. It’s how we share our thoughts, feelings, ideas and knowledge. And it’s why being a great speaker helps us to teach, persuade and build relationships. In other words, it’s how we connect with the people in our lives.
It may sound grand, but it’s also how we get by in society, navigating everyday exchanges with service providers, grocery store cashiers and talkative neighbors.
Two Main Functions of Language
Professor and researcher Linda Cohen describes two main functions of language:
- The transactional
- The interactional
The transactional function of language refers to information-transferring. The interactional function refers to our use of language as a way to create and maintain social relationships. Both indicate the necessity of language in fulfilling our needs, navigating society and being happy, fulfilled individuals.
They also emphasize the difficulties that come with not speaking the same language as those around you.
Language and Identity
Imagine if you spent your entire life speaking another language.
It can seem like a simple thing until you consider that your entire family would speak that language, the differences in traditions and everyday life that come with a new culture and that you would have needed to be bilingual if you lived in an English-speaking country like the US.
This is all to say that, for many people, language represents a significant part of who they are. It’s what they’ve used to communicate their entire lives. It has ties to where they and their ancestors are from.
Language is a part of our identity, and if someone shares the same native language as you, you know they share more with you than the language itself.
How People View the World
The language you speak can also change how you perceive the world. Words describe what you see and experience. You even think your thoughts in your language, giving them form with it.
But language comes from culture, and different cultures have different values. Languages vary not only in vocabulary but also in word choice, emphasis, connotation, syntax, gender, and metaphor. All these contribute to different ways of thinking, and therefore, perceiving the world.
Thus, sharing someone’s language can mean a better understanding of them and their world, and it can make all the difference when attempting to connect and relate.
Research even shows that bilinguals who share both languages are better at problem-solving than those who only share one because sharing a native language makes communicative and collaborative processes more efficient.
What People Experience in the World
Then there are the implications of speaking a language, such as the national, racial and ethnic ties that may influence a person’s history.
Often, a shared language indicates shared experiences, whether that of living in the same location or belonging to the same culture.
And communication is about more than what’s literally said as people infer meaning based on context and experience.
With differences in life experience and world perception, it’s only natural that people who speak different languages might hear different meanings behind the same words.
In this way, a shared first language also makes communication easier due to the cultural and social experiences that come with it.
Even if you’ve learned to speak another person’s language, the ability to catch your cultural inferences and references as well as understand theirs is critical to relaying meaning. Otherwise, there’s another hurdle in the way of truly communicating and connecting.
How to Bridge the Divide
Focus on Relationship Building
Bridging language barriers starts with a knowledge of how to build relationships in the first place. Without this underlying goal, connections won’t form regardless of the language you speak. It means showing you care, being attentive and making an effort to adapt to the other person’s perspective.
Building relationships also requires focusing on the meaning and intent behind a person’s words. Even people who speak the same language misunderstand each other all the time, and misunderstanding is a common culprit of confusion, mistakes, arguments and damaged relationships – between strangers and best friends alike. It’s why knowing how to communicate effectively is a valuable skill.
Use Professional Translation Services
Working to communicate better and maintain relationships are critical pieces of the puzzle that people often overlook, but what about literal communication? After all, these won’t do much good if you can’t communicate at all.
This is where interpretation and translation services can help. On the simplest level, interpreters speak your and the other party’s language, serving as a middle man and communicating for each of you. They provide the shared language you’re missing.
It’s a simple solution that makes a world of difference by showing a willingness to welcome another’s culture and that you care enough to ensure their voice is heard – accurately and entirely. Doing so can be critical in a work environment where inclusivity boosts company performance and excellent client communication is necessary.
And that’s only on the simplest level. Good interpreters also have an understanding of the cultures tied to the languages they speak, which means they can provide the full meaning of what someone says instead of a word-for-word translation that may not do the job.
Their background also means you have a buffer to protect against unintentionally offensive comments that could damage relationships.
It’s worth noting that using an interpreter doesn’t mean communication has to be “all business.” You can still hold the small talk and casual conversations integral to building relationships and breaking long-established barriers.
If you run a business and have an interest in becoming inclusive and connecting better with your clients, reach out to the translation experts at iLingo2. We would love to help.