What Words Don’t Say

How often have you walked down the street and stop to speak to someone you know? Probably a few times I am sure. What about a stranger chatting with you? This is probably less likely.

We were in Germany last weekend at a friend’s wedding. The town we were staying in neither of us had been to before. It was a lovely place, the buildings were beautiful, it was very picturesque. On our first morning, we went for a walk around the town, it was a hustling and bustling place.

We bumped into other people from our group and chatted on the street. As we did, a lady came up to us and spoke, we said we didn’t speak German but were from Scotland. The lady did acknowledge this but continued to speak in German. We didn’t mind at all as we could pick up bits and pieces from what she was saying (from what we had learnt in school or Duolingo). We found out she was 87 years old and had lived there all her life. She talked and talked and we all felt bad as we couldn’t really respond anywhere near as good as we would have liked.

The lady talked for about 5 or so minutes and as quick as she had appeared she said goodbye and left us to it. It was lovely to chat with her and feel welcomed by a local. If only we knew what she was saying.

This lady was happy to chat to us regardless if we understood her. She had things to say and she was going to say them whether we could respond or not. Perhaps that was her goal. All she wanted was someone to listen. Which we did.

A few nights later we were at our friends house celebrating with them and their relatives from around Germany. Some spoke good English whilst others didn’t, it was great to speak with those who didn’t as we could then practice our German and pick up bits and pieces of what they were saying. It was great fun, I really enjoyed it and it was good to immerse ourselves into the language.

It was an amazing trip, I never thought I would ever understand as much as I did from what I remembered learning German at school. We were all helping each other and muddling through, but it made me realise language isn’t as big a barrier as I thought. We can tell looking at someone by their facial expressions if they are happy, sad or angry, and once we start chatting we understand even more from their tone or their hand gestures.

So take the conversation we were having with the lady in the street, we could tell she was happy and comfortable to talk with us and she was talking about positive things. Likewise when we were chatting to the relatives, we could tell from their tone and expressions what kind of conversation we were having. We all laughed a lot as we tried to piece together the phrases or words we were picking up.

Good old smart phones came into play as well, with showing what they were meaning – not using translation apps but instead to show images or websites of what we were talking about. I found out about a business one guy was a design engineer for. It was amazing to find this out just by seeing what he had designed. He was the guy that if the customer wanted something, he would make it happen.

It is really funny to think about how often we have conversations in our own language we struggle with. We often miss the tone in which something is said or miss the cues from facial expressions to really gain an understanding about how the person is feeling.

The next time you speak with someone face to face, whether it is your partner, friend, mum, dad or colleague at work, don’t just hear what they are saying. Look at their facial expressions, listen to the tone, what are they saying or not saying? If they were speaking a different language, what could you pick up from their gestures and expressions that perhaps you would otherwise ignore or miss?

Give the person your full attention and time, put your phone down. Don’t rush them or try to second guess what they are going to say or how they are going to say it. We take language for granted, half listen to what people say, make up what we don’t know and think we understand when we haven’t paid attention. This week take your time when you speak with someone, focus solely on them, truly listen and be guided by their tone, facial expressions, gestures and of course words.

Have a great week and enjoy enhancing your conversations.

Love Emma xx

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