Patt Morrison’s “Easier Said Than Done” (Three on the Town, April 3) clearly demonstrated some of the hardships and obstacles that the foreign-born individual lives with daily and tries to overcome.
However, the article left the reader with the feeling that the responsibility for communication lies mainly with the foreign-born. As a speech and communication specialist whose emphasis is in multicultural communication, I strongly feel that communication is an encounter in which everyone involved is responsible for making it both positive and effective. For the American-born individual, being responsible means taking more time and patience in trying to help the non-native English speaker make himself understood.
We Angelenos live in a diverse society. In my professional experience, I have helped a Russian-born physician communicate with a Filipino-born nurse about a Mexican-born patient, and helped an Armenian-born supervisor communicate with her Japanese-born manager. If we want to help build Los Angeles into a better community, we all have to try harder and show more patience, understanding and kindness to help break down the communication barriers.
Morrison’s “Easier Said Than Done” hits a lot of nails right on the head. I’m beginning to wonder what became of the Age of Communication that we looked forward to 30 years ago.
Sure, we have machines that talk to machines and we have people who talk to machines and we have machines that talk to people, but whatever happened to people talking to people? I can’t even get my telephone company to talk to me person-to-person without a 10-minute limbo filled with advertisements, handy hints and assorted voice-mail fillers.
But most irritating of all is to finally hear a human voice that’s so heavily accented that you’re never quite sure if the listener has understood you. I am always amazed that this kind of thing occurs in communications enterprises and at large corporations. A productive business is based on good communication; good communication is predicated on two-way understanding. We are losing out somewhere along the way.
How rare at a time when “English-only” demands are heard in many quarters, when language conflicts polarize work groups and when immigrants are fair game for politicians looking for quick votes, to find an article as sensitively done and fair-minded as Morrison’s.
In our multicultural community, compassion is the most needed response to language differences. While it may not be popular, Morrisson helps us to walk in the shoes of non-native English speakers. She validates the all-too-human experience of frustration at not understanding or being understood, yet she simultaneously helps us put aside our judgments and irritation.
LEE GARDENSWARTZ and ANITA ROWE
CO-AUTHORS OF “MANAGING DIVERSITY”