This weekend I went to Poland and I found that it is extremely difficult to order at a restaurant when I did not know a single word on the menu. Most importantly, I learned that there is a power dynamics when dealing language barriers.
While visiting Poland, I went to a busy restaurant. There was a very long line to order and when it was my turn to order I tried asking the cashier questions but she did not know any English. I struggled to order my food and people waiting in line were very angry that I was taking long to order. They made faces and looked annoyed. I felt so embarrassed. I felt so dumb.
I have taken many sociology and psychology classes and I have learned about language barriers. I have tutored in many schools and the majority of the time I have been a translator for students. However, I have never been on the other side. I was always privileged and helped those in need. However, now I was at a disadvantage and I had lost my power of language. I learned how much power language holds over an individual. I was insecure to order or attempt to speak to anyone after this occasion. However, my disadvantage was temporary. I was in Poland for a short time but some individuals live with a language barrier their whole life.
My grandmother immigrated to the United States without knowing any English and till this day she knows very few words. However, my family and I always accompany her wherever she needs to go but I can’t imagine how other elderly people survive without family support. How did they get around? Who helps them? I can only imagine how difficult it must be.
I have learned from my experience and now every time I go to a new restaurant I Google what I want to order beforehand. I save the name of the dish accompanied by a picture. Therefore, when I arrive at the restaurant I am ready. I have also learned to have multiple options just in case my first option is not available. So far this has worked for me. I have used technology to help me overcome my language barrier but I feel that something needs to be done for those who do not have access to technology.