Having worked in this office now for a few weeks, it has been very interesting to watch and interact with incoming students. Many of them pause, clear their throats, gesticulate, and profusely apologize for their lack of English. I’m not upset; this is my job, after all.
One young woman who came in recently, eventually communicated that she needed an address verification form so she could apply for a driver’s license. The actual “conversation” consisted mainly of truncated words, profuse apologies, a few drawn pictures, and a little frustration.
When I was on my semester abroad, I think I only experienced this minimal communication for about five minutes. Then the language hit me, and I had no problems talking, laughing, joking… But the last thing I wanted to do to this young woman was show frustration or impatience.
Is it fair to say that most people apologize for things that can’t be helped? I don’t suppose this young woman would speak so haltingly in English if she could have done better. And yet, her apologies were the most discernible of everything she said.
Sometimes, it seems, we act out of character when we are in a new place, with new people, or when we are unsure of ourselves. Unfortunately though, many others will hold us to this standard we have unwittingly set and judge us according to it, meaning, I suppose, that if we have a hard time expressing ourselves, we are seen as low intellect.
I once knew a lady from Peru, who told me during her lunch break that people speak loudly and slowly at her when she asks them to repeat what they’ve said. This lady spoke with a very heavy accent, but her English was excellent. Surely, not every person meant it meanly, but why would anyone try to insult her like that?
Perhaps the two are similar, or symptoms of the other. Because we are unsure, we apologize for our lack of confidence.
Once we understood what the young IEP woman in our office wanted, we made sure to print off every document she might need. I tried to ask her how she was going to get there, and she communicated that she would take the city bus, so I printed off maps and directions for her. I hope she made it.
Please, have compassion on those around you who may not be adept in the same skills. Be patient and kind; we never know what another is going through.
Have a great week.