Language Barriers

I love traveling. A lot. I mostly love it because of all the new people and places I can encounter. Since I am a Spanish major, I can pretty much hold a fluent Spanish conversation, but I would love to learn more languages. I wish I could be one of those crazy people who can speak like 7 different languages, but for now two languages are sufficient—well, barely. Besides my internship at Glamour, I have a part-time job in the city as well to earn a little extra cash to even be able to live here. Though I am accustomed to the retail experience it is SO different in New York City. I would guess that over half the customers that come into the store are from somewhere outside the United States. This has its challenges, of course. When I need to assist any of the Hispanic customers, no problem. Spanish is my thing. But when it comes to the customers visiting the city from Poland or China, for example, it turns into a game of charades just to explain how to use a product or how much they have to pay.

It definitely gets frustrating after a while, but then I think of it from their perspectives. The signs, prices, menus, maps and the complex subway system are all written in English. I can assume that being a native Chinese speaker new to American life must make understanding even the basics of these pretty complicated, whereas the hardest part for me is just explaining a price.

When I think about this side of the interaction, I have mixed reactions. I feel stupid for being frustrated, I feel sorry that they are having such a hard time, and I remember that I am going to share that same experience. In the spring, I plan on studying abroad in Argentina. (Plans are not set in stone, but just go with it for now.) That means I will be in a new city, Buenos Aires, with no familiar retreat. Yes, I speak Spanish, but learning Spanish in my classes at school is not equivalent to living in a Spanish-speaking city for 5 months. It will definitely be a challenging but exciting experience. That’s why I decided to see my interactions at work in more positive light.  Attempting to converse with the non-English-speakers at work is merely practice for how I will be communicating in the spring. Challenge accepted.


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