“We have a listening problem”

Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

I found this article addresses the important problem of the consequences of not knowing a foreign language.  I believe that when we, as Americans, do not bother to learn another language, we force others to follow our lead if they want to communicate with us.  On our side of the conversation we try to hold all the cards.  This attitude does not foster goodwill with our conversation partners.

When I try to learn the language of the other, I show that I am willing to work to understand that person.  This article says, “Language is a vehicle—a tool—for listening, for communicating, for understanding, for being able to relate to people on their terms.”  Even if I speak that language badly, I still demonstrate effort towards communicating.

Putting forth effort to learn a language that you don’t “have to” learn can confuse people.  Recently I received a very respectful message on Livemocha asking me (in Farsi!) why I would learn Farsi.  True, I’m not in the oil or intelligence business, so that’s a good question.

I’m learning Farsi because I want to learn about another group of people on the planet.  I can read books in English on the modern Farsi speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.  By struggling to understand their language, though, I get some street cred.  I had to move out of my comfort zone–I sound like a 3-year old.  I had to work hard to do so, too.

Here’s how communicating unfolds on a practical level.  I get my foot in the door with a Farsi-speaker first because I approach him or her to speak the language, and then I get a good reaction to begin a nice conversation.  He or she trusts that I am really interested in learning more.  This interaction establishes a relationship based on an initial trust.

8 thoughts on ““We have a listening problem”

  1. I agree with this so much! And plus, if you only speak English (which I understand you don’t), you only get the English-speaking world’s opinion on the oil or intelligence business, not to mention the culture. I’m in Russia with all these protests against the unclean elections, and there have been a number of really high-profile articles in the American media that are totally out of touch with the opinion of the typical Russian but claim to be representing the general feeling of the Russian public.


    1. Thanks, Ruth. Only getting the English slant on things is really unhelpful. To be intelligent you need to be able to deal with a plurality of points of view.

      One thing that saddens me about these fantastic comments is that I (we?) am preaching to the choir. Right now I’m trying to develop ideas on how to reach the non-“singers.” Any suggestions?


  2. Salam! I’m so excited there’s more of us learning Farsi 🙂 I know it’s a bit pricey but I highly recommend the rosetta stone language system. It’s really the next best thing to native speakers! Keep up the awesome work!


    1. Salam! Good to hear from you. I’m ready to start Rosetta Stone soon–I’ve got it. One problem I’ve been running into is that I have my programs for learners, but I have been neglecting other aspects. So I’m watching more movies and finding podcasts in Farsi, just to get used to listening for the words I know.


      1. I do the same! There’s a few talk radio stations you can listen to online now. And Netflix has a few movies streaming in Farsi. They’re a little on the ‘older’ side but you still get the language practice. I’m glad I found your blog!


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