About communication barriers

By Hyunsoo Lee

Content warning: discussion and examples of racist language


I’ll begin by saying I’m grateful to friends for sharing your valuable thoughts and experiences. I am learning a lot through the shared thoughts, stories, and facts in our grad community.

Many people in US and worldwide, including those in my home country South Korea, still have biased understandings of the history and nature of racism and discrimination. Much of that comes from skewed media reports, biased educations, and a lack of effort and empathy.

Another thing I want to emphasize are language/communication barriers. For example, 99% of the times that Korean people access news and information, it is through translated media or via Korean media. I often feel disturbed by the fact that these medias do not tell the complete story and distort what they report. So, even people with an activist-mind or caring heart for the racism and marginalization issues don’t get a good chance to learn the complete story and the various perspectives of diverse people.

In fact, in the comments section of all the news about BLM protests, I am disturbed to see Korean people fighting, writing: “Like in 92 LA, those black people are looting the markets owned by Koreans,” or “I am in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but racism over Asian minorities never get strong attention,” or “No, you have a narrow mind and incomplete knowledge. The diverse people with diverse background and identity shouldn’t be lumped together and framed as a racist because of the skin color of some racists.” I am disturbed to see that several people are simply saying “I have mixed feelings because of the 92 LA incident. Korean and Asian people gets racist attacks often in US/Europe which many of those are from black people”

Seeing this, I have started to actively share my thoughts and what I learned and got inspired from our grad student community, through making comments to Korean news or Youtube videos, and thinking of making my own videos. I feel to confess that during my role as International caucus chair and VP Equity, I sometimes did not completely understand someone’s comment, or what the agenda is really talking about, or what a given email message is mainly trying to say. And I think when I write an email or SNS post, on the GTFF page for example, I proofread it and revisit/edit it about ten times or more. Several international students might have similar challenges.

I don’t intend to make excuse or to blame someone or to criticize our structure. But I think it is worth to keep in mind of communication barriers, not just about language. Even if the communicating persons have same native tongue or the non-native person is very fluent in the language being used, there can be also challenges in completely comprehending the main points and flow of the conversation.

I just wanted to share these thoughts here, that sometimes such language barriers and other communication barriers can be a significant issue. I am down to doing or introducing someone for any translation work of our community’s important documents or contents. I would like to say that, when there is someone who might have difficulty in comprehending the main points, due to language barrier or difference in cultural, educational or identity background, among the audience and potential listener, it will be worth attempting to use easier language, avoid idiomatic phrases, or share a translated or a concise version.