Leah Hoffman participated in the International Policy Conference held on October 24th and 25th at MU. Check out her experience below!
The International Policy Conference, focusing on the Power of Media, was held on October 24 and 25. One of the sessions focused on interacting with other languages and cultures in a digital space. Along with two other students, I examined the possibility for misinterpretation of other languages when engaging online and the practices that will hopefully lend themselves to more successful communication across languages.
The first aspect to our presentation focused on idiomatic phrases and their use in language. I brought some Spanish idiomatic phrases and asked students to use an online translator to learn the literal meaning of the phrase. We then contrasted the literal and idiomatic phrases. For example, “ser pan comido” literally translates as “to be eaten bread,” but it is more closely aligned to the American idiomatic phrase “to be a piece of cake.” I asked students to consider how a lack of cultural understanding or going solely off a literal translation could make communication more difficult, or even impossible. This began a discussion of user responsibility to have personal or cultural knowledge when interacting with other languages online, or at the very least user understanding that some meanings may literally get lost in translation.
We then spoke about the use of proverbs and sayings and their ability to convey the morals of a society. There is a Japanese proverb that literally translates to “Let the cute journey.” This may not make sense to a nonnative, but the meaning behind the proverb is not dissimilar to the American proverb meaning “spare the rod, spoil the child”. Again, this demonstrates the need for deeper cultural understanding, an understanding that cannot simply be garnered through an online translator.
To conclude our session, we introduced a quote from Nigerian author Chinua Achebe who suggested that “proverbs are like the palm oil with which words are eaten.” We asked students to consider how proverbs and idiomatic phrases allow us to communicate more clearly. We noted their importance in expressing abstract thoughts or making concepts and ideas more digestible. Students were challenged to think of modern or digital examples that serve the same purpose across different modes of communication. They were invited to participate in an ongoing conversation by adding their own thoughts and realizations to the poster with sticky notes, which were available for other students with the purpose of seeing how their peers were engaging with the content. Students made suggestions of examples in digital communication, such as the use of emojis to clarify text messages or the unifying or clarifying roles of memes of gifs which contain their own brand of meaning that can transcend communication barriers.
Overall, the goal of the session was to make students more cognizant of aspects of language that may not always be received when engaging in online communication. This called to attention practices that they may employ in digital communication to clarify their own intentions and messages. Overall, the students came away with a new perspective on their roles as digital citizens and a deeper understanding of intercultural interactions online in an age where the entire world is connected.