The Problem of Language Barrier in Society Presented in Me Talk Pretty One Day

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We use language to communicate with each other, but sometimes the language itself becomes a barrier and negatively affects the ability of intercommunication. In general, the difficulties experienced by people who have migrated from other countries will probably be the process of overcoming various differences between the two countries. In my point of view, this difference comes mainly from language and culture. Linguistically, cultural differences between countries are considered to be about 50%, in particular, culture universal is 50% and culture-specific is 50%. Culture is an object to understand, and language is an object to be assimilated. So, what is the heterogeneity of language and culture and how should we overcome it? As far as I am concerned, it is in cross-cultural understanding and assimilation to a different language.

I am a Korean-American born in the United States. The difference in language is between homogeneous-stem languages, but Korean and English are even more dissimilar because they are totally heterogeneous-stem languages. English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages while Korean is most likely a distant relative of the Ural-Altaic which includes Hungarian, Mongolian, and Finnish. The so-called “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis” assumes that the differences in language structure lead to differences between their ways of thinking. This is how I became the odd one out at school.

My very first-in-class public speech was memorable since all the stress, pain, and embarrassment have had caused due to the language difference. If anyone insists that I should define the meaning of disaster, this must be the greatest one in my life. It was the day of an entrance ceremony for my elementary school in South Korea. The first thing we had to do before entering the class was to pick-up our own name tags from the hallway. This simple task was quite challenging on me, unlike other fellows, as it was only 7 days after our family moved from the state. That’s right, when I moved to Seoul at the age of 7, I was not able to speak Korean fluently nor reading it. I was too embarrassed to show my face, and so I just walked into the class with no luck in succeeding my very first mission.

“Hey! Your name is?” she asked, and there was an embarrassed silence for a moment
until she decided to fiercely attack in further.

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“Also, didn’t I clearly tell you, folks, to put your name tags on?”.

I was annoyed that she asked me with insistence. It was about being a stuttering idiot without a prepared text and also it wasn't long before my teacher Mrs. Choi figured started questioning as if the investigator put the suspect through the wringer. I barely told her that I must have forgotten to do so, by the way of excuse with tearful eyes. Mrs. Choi was mean to me, and I didn't feel this is going right. But this is probably not the most fascinating part of the story. She then asked us to step forward and introduce ourselves to the classmates one at a time. I clearly remember that I was so stunned by this that I experienced a moment of total disorientation. I had to say that I don't speak Korean yet, and all my classmates laughed out loud and thought I was making a joke. After all, my parents were called to the school and had to explain the whole circumstances. I thought that this incident was also related to cultural influences.

David Sedaris, in his journal, in terms of being linguistically abused by his teacher and also have been suffered from compromising situation; a tough task in one's non-native language could have caused great mental anguish. I can imagine how Sedaris would have felt when he mentioned: “My fear and discomfort crept beyond the borders of the classroom and accompanied me out onto the wide boulevards.” Also, from “When the phone rang, I ignored it. If someone asked me a question, I pretended to be deaf. I knew my fear was getting the best of me when I started wondering why they don’t sell cuts of meat in vending machines.”, I was immersed in emotion and felt his abnormal heart rhythms and high anxiety levels. [“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by Sedaris, page 14]

However, in my case, Mrs. Choi’s lackadaisical handling had worsened the situation and I, eventually have taunted by my classmates whereas David and his entire French class were ridiculed for their response by the teacher. It is difficult to determine who’ve been more painful than others because of different circumstances. But the truth of the matter is that we both have been subjected to linguistic oppression, although our situations were different. It is not always easy to embrace different cultures. Thus, language and culture are inseparable relations that cannot be discussed separately.

As another example, Ping was unable to read a book at will due to her country’s political ideology which was against the opening of the nation’s culture. They were in a very insular culture, protected as it is from outside influences. After reading Sedaris’s and Ping’s essays, I felt that it doesn’t matter we don’t speak their language perfectly, or that our customs and cultures are different from one another. However, everything would have been better for Ping, Sedaris and Tan’s mother if their society understood each other's positions on an issue, and had respect other’s culture.

A language changes, and ceases to exist according to the passing of time and reversing language shift is no mean task. Others want to learn a language, and we should not be prescriptive about how they go about it. At least here, in The Garden of Words, we all should be safe. In conclusion, my personal position is that “The Garden of Words” allows people to interact between cultures and break the cultural boundary. It is in cross-cultural understanding and assimilation to a different language. .

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