I’ve been in CS since like ever. All right, to be precise since 2005. In these last six years lots of changes occurred in the website. Many new features, some layout touches. But one of the tools which has been around since the beginning is the language barrier warning. Just try and pick someone who doesn’t speak a common language with you, and “voila”, a red warning “A Language Barrier May Exist“.
Now, this is rare, as most people will speak at least a bit of English. But it happened to me during my last trip to the Balkans, October 2011. I was already in the area, desperately trying to find out how to move from Banja Luka to Belgrade in a way that I could visit some locations in the Bosnian region closer to the border. I wanted to stay in Tuzla, but couldn’t find a host there. Then, only the gods know why, I decided to run a search in Brcko… and there it was, this couple, couch available and… the feared sign… “A Language Barrier May Exist“.
In a common situation I would discard them as a suitable host. I mean, how could we perform the minimum social pleasantries besides smiling and shaking hands? How could we share the same space in a painful mute atmosphere, staring at each other without a word to be said? Well, but this was an exceptional case. I was tired of looking for couches and hostels. I just wanted to get things done and proceed to Belgrade from wherever I would stop for the night. It was the last of five weeks on the road and my spirits were going down. So I wrote them a request, encouraged by the single reference they had in their profile:
“Perfect family to be host from. They are smiling and nice people. Me and my boyfriend have been their first host and we got great food, nice acomodation, a very interestig tour in the city. They do not speak English but some how we understood each-other and we really passed great time togheter. I advice everybody to visit Brcko with this family.”
Well, the day came. I left Banja Luka at mid afternoon and approaching Brcko I couldn’t avoid the anxiety. It has been a terrible experience to arrive Banja Luka bus station in the evening, all dark, no idea where I was, trying to find my way to the center… what if Zdenko wasn’t waiting for me as agreed? What if I ran out of credit in my SIM card? There was no accommodation in Brcko. At least none to be found over the Internet. When the bus slowed down and entered the station I was starting to imagine myself sleeping in a corner, mimicking the homeless way of life… dreadful enough, even if for a night only.
And he wasn’t there. No shit! Looking around I saw a fellow, laying on a bench, in deep sleep despite the cold. Wow! My companion for the night, how exciting. Well… seriously… as I always do in difficult moments, I stopped to think. I opened my backpack, took extra clothes (geez, it was COLD) and a pack of biscuits and started to eat. And then, to my enormous relief, a car stopped and Zdenko walked in my direction.
All right, it’s not like he couldn’t speak a word of English. He could. Some assorted words, some full sentences. So we managed to keep some conversation until we got home, where Jandranka was waiting for us. It felt good, to be in a home. There was a lovely lounge, a good bathroom and above all, these two great persons. Jandranka immediately started feeding me, and for that I will be eternally grateful to her. How delicious was her home made food! But let me regain focus… this text is about language barrier, not food.
The three of us
Jandranka could speak English approximately at the same level as her hubbie. So they could help each other, exchanging vocabulary as needed. That improved a bit the English part of the conversation. Then, due to my three years of life in Prague, I acquired some vocabulary which in a way could be useful while trying to communicate with a Serbian speaker. That helped too. So we made it through the evening, in this bizarre mixture of simplified English and some words of Czech which could be understood by my Serbian speakers friends.
Right… this was good for basic conversation. How about advices on what to see in Brcko and that sort of talk? Well, they came out with an unexpected tool…. why not using Google Translate (http://translate.google.com) to deal with more complex communication needs? So that was what we did, for hours, not only in that evening but also next day at lunch time, when I was lucky enough to have a second dose of Jandranka delicious food. Can you imagine this? “Ok, pass me the Keyboard”…. typing… hitting the translate button…. checking the integrity of the translation… then… “right… read this… this is what I mean”. The other, focused eyes on the screen… a smile… yes… “Ok let me write”… and the answer, swiftly coming, courtesy of Google. Now… to spice this situation add an erratic Internet connection which worked 30 min out of each hour and a single computer for three persons.
Let me summarize: it was GREAT! Damn the “language barrier“. People always find a way to communicate, and even if we couldn’t discuss Engels of Shakespeare, damn it again… who cares about that… we managed to learn a bit about each other, I got precious information about Brcko and the region, I was provided with everything I could need to reach maximum levels of comfort. So, please take my advise, my humble personal advise: don’t let yourself be tricked by a so called “language barrier“. Such think does not exist.