The Secret of Communication

030000I got a call from my father the other day. Right after I said hello, he asked me a question: What does the English word “respect” mean? Oh, not again.

He calls me to ask this kind of question sometimes. As soon as he wonders something he calls me and ask questions without any introductory remarks or concerns that I might be in the middle of something. It is a pain in the neck. However, it tells me what is going on with him.

“What does the word ‘Manifest’ mean?”
“A public declaration of policies.”
Yeah, it is the time of an election. He must have watched the news on TV.

“What is ‘layout’ ?”
“A design or arrangement.”
He must be struggling with his PC.

“What is ‘Rumba’?”
“It’s a kind of dance style…”
It’s surprisingly hard to explain. Did he watch the electronic sweepers TV commercial? Or he might mean the song of Kiyoshi Hikawa.

By the way, it was the second time that he asked me the meaning of “respect”. It means “to hold in reverence”, I told you before, I said unenthusiastically. “What?” he asked. He has been slightly hard of hearing lately. Conversations with him sometimes doesn’t make sense because he hears things wrong. The other day in a café, he was embarrassed to tell a waitress that he doesn’t know such a person when she just explained to him where the sugar and milk were.

“So, respect means to hold in reverence!”
I raised my voice a little bit.
Now I know he is serious but he even sounds like he’s playing around by mimicking a famous comedian.

Let’s see.
“Respect means to look up to somebody.”

I tried to explain by changing words.
“What? I can’t hear well.”
This is hopeless. Now I feel as if I were the comedian.

“It means to hold in reverence or look up to somebody!”
I screamed out and repeated it. After the third time, he seemed to have caught my words.
“I see. I’ve been wondering what it means because I often hear the word ‘respect’. I got it. Thank you. See ya!”
He hung up.

Young Japanese people often use the word “respect” lately, I thought laughing a bit wryly. He is obviously not keeping up with English words, which are flooding all over. He seems to be interested in English but has no taste to acquire it. Several years ago, he abruptly said to me, “Native English speakers don’t use the word ‘shopping’, right?” There are a lot of Japanese-English words, which don’t make sense for native speakers, but shopping is shopping. Wondering why he said such a thing, I told him that English-speaking people use that word. Then he said wondering, “But this English lesson CD says ‘go sho–ppen’. I almost fell off my seat. The native English speaker’s pronunciation of “go shopping” totally sounded different to him. Unfortunately, the English lesson CD had no effect on my father.

038881However, there was this one time my father got to me. When I was in high school, he took me his friend’s house to see an exchange student from Australia. He must have thought it was a good opportunity for me to speak English with a native speaker, because he knew that I was interested in English. Squeezing out some English words in textbooks from my brain, I tried to communicate with the student. At first, it worked well even with my broken English, but soon I was stuck. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I just wanted to say “fly”, a insect.  But my pronunciation wasn’t right and she didn’t get it and was tilting her head down in confusion. Seeing me at a loss without knowing what to do, my father asked me what happened. I told him that I couldn’t pronounce “fly” properly. He said, “Silly you. You know what? What makes communication work is not words, but your heart.” Then, he made a gesture of a fly buzzing towards to her. “Oh, a fly! ” She made her eyes sparkle and understood what it was. That was the experience which was frustrating but also humiliating at the same time.

What my father said to me at that time is always at the back of my mind. Even with my own language Japanese, I feel that it is hard to communicate sometimes. Especially conveying something is a tough part. Whenever I am thinking narrowly or getting stuck by depending on words too much, the memory brings me back to myself. My father has no knack to learn English and can be really annoying sometimes, but as a matter of fact, I respect him.


This post is also available in : Japanese

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