Is there a difference between speaking a language and communicating?

So much of my focus in life is about the importance of words and communication.

Not only as a copywriter where my ability to provide the right words can help find a customer, create a network and build a business. But in all areas of life, every day brings new opportunities to get communication right – or wrong.

There’s always been one are of communicating however, where I feel a bit of a failure. 

Language learning

I’m of the generation where the language we learnt at school was French. We started at 11 and – unless you excelled – you never needed to learn another. I didn’t excel, I struggled.

I struggled with the rules, with reciting verbs, with peculiar statements that didn’t have any relevance to my life. It never felt like communicating, it felt like an academic exercise. 

I could remember how to tell people my name and age, and how to buy a stamp or direct someone to the town hall; but I was frightened of using the wrong verb or pronoun and accidentally insulting someone with a misplaced ‘mademoiselle’ or ‘madame’.

So when I completed my French GCSE, I rejoiced in the fact I’d never need to learn another language. And although I do attempt the native language when I travel, I very quickly ask “Parlez-vous anglais?”

It’s not just about being understood

The thing is I love to travel, and I believe that we have a different experience of a culture when we can engage in conversation. It’s not just about being able to ask for coffee. There is so much more to the language we use than just a method of conveying information.

In my working life I preach the importance of thinking about who you’re communicating with and about developing relationships. We learn so much about people when we attempt to understand, and speak, a common language.

Communication is two-way, and considering the perspective of your counterpart is essential. When travelling, as in all areas of my life, I want to know that I’ve made some effort to consider the people I’m with. I want to understand more about their world and learn something new in the process.

Parlo solo un po ‘di Italiano

So, this summer, I’m travelling with my family to Italy and we’ll be staying a little off the beaten track. For the first time, for a trip of this kind, I have decided to try and get some basics of the language before we travel.

italian; language; communication

It occurred to me that in our technologically advanced world, there must be tools which would support someone like me to learn a language. Although my son’s school still seems to teach languages the way I attempted to learn over 30 years ago, I’m sure there must be a method which suits me better.

So I’ve downloaded an app where, so far, I’ve earned 29 crowns learning some basic words and phrases. What this will mean when we get to Chianni, I don’t know. But more than anything, I’m enjoying the challenge of learning a new language with its own rhythm and musicality.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be witty, engaging or clever in Italian – but making the effort to think about the people I want to communicate with, and learning some beautiful new words and phrases, is a fun challenge.

How are you with languages? Parlez-vous francais?