Language and Communication

I saw a really nice video today. A bunch of people got together to learn some sign language to make a hearing impaired guy feel less alone. What a beautiful thing. (Yes I know it’s a Samsung advertisement but I still like it)

It made me think of us expats living in a country where they speak a different language. Except, in our situation, it is up to us to learn the new language so we don’t feel isolated in our adopted country.

I know I have gone on about this probably too much,  but it’s really important to me. I love to talk with people and I’m interested to learn about who they are, how they think, what they do, and how they live. In this new country and culture, it’s even more interesting because many things are different so there’s always something to learn and explore.

Learning enough Spanish to communicate has vastly changed my experience of living here. I feel like I have more connection and support than I ever had in my native country. Every day I learn something new, a bird, a fruit, how does your retirement system work, what do I do about these ants? It’s endless, the new knowledge and experiences. And, it’s really fun when you can understand the jokes because most Panamanians have a great sense of humor.

I think our connection with other people is a big part of what makes us human. We have lots of electronics and social media these days which is supposed to bring us together, but I wonder if it is isolating us more in some ways. It’s also important to spend time with a friend in person, in my opinion. And, understanding people of different countries and cultures is good for the world.

I thank Yaira every day for her professionalism, perseverance, kindness, and endless patience in teaching me Spanish. I wasn’t great when I arrived but I knew enough basics to get started, and it grew from there. (shameless plug for a good friend)


About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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21 Responses to Language and Communication

  1. A beautiful thing indeed.. Its so important to communicate and to help others feel less alone.. Wonderful share.. Thank you xx


  2. chugwa says:

    Great post Kris, my thoughts all the way


  3. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    I think everyone who has learned at least some Spanish is of the same mind. Venezuela once had a democracy that allowed making fun of the government. Political jokes require language and current events and once you catch on, the humor is non-stop. Some humor is regional and that takes practice to master but again, it is worth it. Not learning the language is a lot like being deaf, you don’t even know what you are missing.


    • Being deaf… yes, an excellent way to put it.
      A lot of the humor here is said with a perfectly straight face so you have to understand to get it. I went to the veggie market one day, planning to make ropa vieja (old clothes, a cut of beef) The guy gave me directions on how to make it, and said if they don’t like it they can eat ropa nueva (new clothes) 😀


  4. So true Kris – learning the language of the country you’ve settled in gives you a whole new perspective and understanding of the people, culture and way of life – not forgetting the acceptance it gains you by the people among whom you live.


    • It makes me think of all the people from the US who complain that the Latinos don’t learn English. Yes, the effort to learn the language is very much appreciated here


    • jim and nena says:

      Here in Texas being bilingual can be embarrassing. When my landline phone developed a glitch, the tech showed up and his ID showed a Spanish name. While chatting with him I switched in and out of two languages from habit. He finally told me he wasn’t very good with Spanish!? His family was from Spain but he was 2 generations of American. Some days you just can not win, ya noe? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Funny story Jim – I can just picture your embarrassment! Sad for the 2nd generation Spaniard who’d lost touch with his language though.


      • That happens here too, especially in Boquete, land of gringos. I see someone who looks darker to me, and start talking in Spanish and they get that glazed look in their eyes until I realize they are an expat or tourist and don’t understand a thing I’m saying.


  5. But back to the Samsung ad on sign language Kris – yes, a very good depiction of the importance of language, and communication. (And so sweet). This just reminded me of a colleague (and friend) at work who’s half Chinese, half American, married to an American, when they had a baby (who’s two now) they taught her sign language when she was a baby, before she could speak – and were delighted to find her communicating her wants and needs with them – in sign language. She’s now learning Chinese (Mandarin I think), at the age of two, so she can talk to her Chinese grandmother (who also speaks English by the way). That’s one very fortunate child, don’t you think?


    • It must be the thing to do now. Both of my daughters taught their babies sign language and it was great. The babies could communicate before they were able to form words, and the little ones still use it along with their words. I wish I had known or thought about it when mine were little, especially my younger daughter. We were both so frustrated when she would talk and talk and talk and I couldn’t understand a thing she said.


  6. Robert&Helen. says:

    The most complicated languages in Europe are Hungarian and Finnish.


  7. I actually just shared a sign language video with my husband made specifically for police officers. How scary to be pulled over and not be able to hear what the officer is telling you! The video went through 10 common requests that may happen during a traffic stop. These are things (including foreign language) you just don’t think about all the time. Great post!


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