I recedntly had the opportunity to do what seems to be rare for me lately, invite people over for dinner. During that gathering, my sister-in-law shared a story of a time she watched a hairdresser attempt to communicate with a client who did not speak much English. The result was much like the video above. The hairdresser’s voice went up in volume and her slow enunciation of loud words quickly began to imply that one of the two parties might be suffering a mental disability.
As I listened to her share, I felt embarrassed. I felt embarrassed for her having witnessed the event, for the hairdresser, the client… the whole situation. Her client wasn’t deaf. He did not speak English well and the hairdresser’s solution was to speak louder. Speaking at a higher volume does not help a person understand language.
That story spun in my mind and I quickly realized that I have personally witnessed this very action countless times. It has happened to me in grocery stores, department stores, pharmacies, and definitely at work. It’s a natural part of my daily life. I’m not very tall, I have brown hair, brown eyes, and my last name is Rodriguez, so… I’m usually the chosen one. I don’t mind it. I consider it a privilege to help others.
If I’m close enough to help, I usually get the look. That look that says, “Can you help?” Sometimes that look comes from the person speaking English and sometimes from the person who speaks no English. Other times, I’m asked directly, “Do you speak Spanish? Can you please help?” before I even notice the conversation is taking place. I usually jump right in, no problem.
I can see how speaking louder might make us feel like we are communicating better, but volume has nothing to do with understanding language. It’s good practice to speak clearly, and using body language is probably the most impactful component of communication. However, speaking loudly to a person who does not understand the language will not help that person understand better what you’re trying to communicate.
This leaves me thinking about trauma. What I’ve learned about trauma is that using loud tones can be taken as an aggressive action, which can exacerbate any situation, especially when working with children.
I will continue to help, where language help is needed, but I’ll also have to consider how volume shows up in my dual language classroom, where we are all learning language.