Why can’t they speak with subtitles?

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subtitles (2)

A while ago we were watching a movie about Australia. After a while we decided to put on the subtitles as English is our second language and the strong accent was too hard for us to understand. My husband went to watch a movie at the cinema the other day: unfortunately no subtitles, just Thai soundtrack. Being in Thailand over two years now, it was still too difficult to follow most of what the characters were saying.
I was talking to a friend the other day and I realized that life would be so much easier if everyone would talk with subtitles appearing underneath their face. Imagine this: coming to a new country with a foreign language, you’d still understand every word people were saying (if you can read fast enough). Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Not only the Thais but also our Australian team members talking with subtitles? Wow, awesome!
Even deaf people could understand, without having to read lips. We wouldn’t have to study language, have language checks and embarrass ourselves with our lack of ability to communicate. Coming to Thailand as missionaries for the first time is a humbling experience: suddenly we felt like a child, helpless in many ways – even the simplest things like buying diapers becomes a challenging task. And studying Thai is hard work. It is time consuming and sometimes we feel like we will never be able to communicate well but this makes me depend even more upon our God, who can speak all languages.
Being able to speak the foreign language does not mean that we understand the culture right away. So while learning language we also learn a lot about the culture. Of course, we make a lot of mistakes: we say too much, when we shouldn’t; we show too many emotions, when we shouldn’t; we laugh too loud, when we shouldn’t; we blow our noses too loud, when we shouldn’t. I love to talk. So not being able to communicate was really stressful for me, but at the same time it forced me to observe. And there is no cultural learning without cultural observations.
Looking back on my time of full time language study, I realize, that it was actually a blessing not to be able to communicate as well as I wanted to, because otherwise I definitely would have offended Thais with my direct way of saying things. Learning language and learning culture go hand in hand: both are very important. And also the Thais appreciate the effort we make in learning the language. Through our willingness to go through the struggles of learning a new language, we can show them, that we care for them.
Of course it would make some things in life easier with subtitles, but it is also a great feeling, when we realize, how much our language has improved. But regarding our team mates: it would still be great, if they had subtitles sometimes… 😉
Photo source: mfischer@flickr.com

Andreas & Ruth Meier

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