Sunday, April 28, 2013

Language Study

Here a some pictures of my main Mandarin textbook and notebook so that you can see what I am learning in language school.  The English definitions of new words are the only English words in my book. As you can see below, I am now at the stage where I am required to read Chinese characters with no help from pinyin, or phonetic pronunciation guides.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


"Be quick to listen and slow to speak."
"There is a reason you have two ears and only one mouth."

I've heard these phrases all my life and have quickly come up with a list of excuses why I do not need to work to become a better listener:
   I already leave so many thoughts unsaid.
   I have some useful information to contribute to this conversation.
   Communication is a two way street so therefor I can say something anytime I want.

The older I get the more I realize that when I think of listening I think of not talking. I do not approach listening as truly hearing another person.  Since moving into a cross-cultural context, I have realized how insufficient my definition of listening has become.  When interacting with people from a different background it is not enough to simply hear the words being spoken, you must concentrate on the meaning the person is attempting to convey.

Listening is not an innate skill for me.  Talking, expressing my opinion, contributing to a conversation, sharing new facts....basically talking is what comes naturally for me.  While this is not always a bad thing, my natural inclination is away from listening and creating the space necessary for other people to express themselves.  One of my biggest hinderances to being a good listener is my desire to jump in and identify with what the other person is saying, to let them know that they are not alone.  While this is not the worst thing, desiring to identify with people actually hinders conversations by derailing the topic.  It can keep the topic causal and prevent the other person from fully expressing their feelings.

Living cross-culturally, interacting with people form every walk of life imaginable, I am constantly searching for a point of overlap, seeking to find things we both have in common that can bridge the gap between our diverse experiences.  But how much do I miss because I am so intent on seeking a commonality?  Have I prevented the opportunity to learn from another person by speaking too quickly?  Did I miss the chance to speak hope, love, peace or joy into a situation because I did not create the space in the conversation to truly find out how that person is doing?  Did I completely miss what they were trying to convey?

I am on the journey to becoming a good listener.  I am actively trying to speak less, work to provide people with the space to express their hearts and not offer advice before hearing the fully story.  Every time I come away from an encounter feeling proud of myself for not speaking too quickly, there are give other interactions where I know I have come up short.  Though I have just started down this lengthy path, I am excited about this learning process.  By learning to be a better listener I am learning to become a better friend, a more attentive person and a more caring individual.