Language Barriers and Language Learners: A Review
Sana Issa Srour (PhD)((
Civa Khammas Naser((
تتناول هذه المقالة واحدة من أكثر المشاكل إلحاحًا التي تتمثّل في كسر حواجز الاتّصال بحيث يمكن للمرء أن يكتسب التواصل باللغة الإنكليزيّة بطلاقة. المقالة لها ثلاثة أغراض. أوّلاً: تستكشف العوامل التي تخلق الحواجز اللغويّة. ثانيًا: تسلّط الضوء على تأثير حواجز اللغة على الاتّصالات اللفظيّة وغير اللفظيّة، وثالثًا: تقدّم توصيات لتحسين الاتّصال بطريقة فعّالة. مثل هذه القضيّة ضروريّة للغاية، لأنّ العولمة تحثّ المزيد من الناس، سواء كانوا طلاّبًا أو غيرهم، على استخدام اللغة كأداة للتواصل في بناء العلاقات.
الكلمات المفتاحيّة: حواجز اللغة، متعلّمو اللغة، التواصل، التغلّب على حواجز اللغة.
This article tackles one of the most pressing problems which is the breaking down of communication barriers so that one can gain fluent English language communication. The purpose of the article is threefold. First, it explores the factors that create language barriers. Second, it highlights the impact of language barriers on verbal and non-verbal communications, and third, it makes recommendations for improving communication in an effective manner. Such an issue is of prime necessity as globalization urges more and people, whether students or others to utilize language as a tool for communication in building relationships.
Keywords: Language Barriers, Language Learners, Communication, Overcoming Language Barriers.
Nowadays, learning English for the purpose of communication is similar to possessing a second soul. English, then, becomes a personal need for students and people which allows them to set goals, choose language improvement strategies, and exercise self-esteem and self-control. Learning as an activity demands that the learners get to know the structure and composition of language. In this process, they learn the rules that govern language and its use. So, knowing the ins and outs of language enables learners to communicate properly, and knowing the barriers of language and how to break them, guarantees effective communication.
Language Learning, Feedback, and Communication
Many pioneers have different views concerning language learning and how it affects communication. On the one hand, Fengying (2003) considers language as an everlasting and complex activity and to ease this activity, motivation is a must. Motivation stems from accomplishments throughout life. So, a skillful teacher is able to boost the students’ motivation by making learning enjoyable. On the other hand, Gracheva (2015) believes that we are not always aware that we possess the intricate elements of language such as language structures, lexis, and grammar, which we ultimately have to share with others. Accordingly, learners should not imitate speech habits or merely memorize and mimic grammatical rules. However, they have to formulate their own manner of expressing themselves, which is something that is acquired by being more aware of language or when they achieve a certain level of language awareness.
As for communication, Stepichev (2009) states that effective communication is the basic goal of learning English. What should be taken into consideration is that language awareness is different from the ability to communicate. For this reason, language is futile if the individual does not use it. In addition, Stepichev (2009) believes that teachers are specialized in hunting mistakes, fighting, and eradicating them. Furthermore, Alam, M., Alam, M., & Farzana, S. (2018) consider that teachers should not be mentors who look for the students’ mistakes because negative feedback whether on grammar or pronunciation for example, will lead to the demotivation of students and they will be intimidated to share their knowledge in class. However, teachers should interact communicatively with students and involve them in pinpointing how to overcome language and communication errors. This helps students to boost and maintain their self-esteem and confidence. In a similar vein, Baker and Westrup, (2003) stress the idea that educators should highlight the errors of the learners in a positive and a fun manner. According to Harmer (2007), the teacher’s feedback on the student’s performance must depend on the chapters of the material course book, the types of mistakes done by the student, and focus on the student who makes the mistakes. However, if the teacher corrects whenever there is a mistake then the aim of communication is ruined.
Consequently, because of what has been mentioned above, students are scared of making mistakes while expressing their opinion in a classroom on communication skills, for example. Thus, for Beere (2016) they are paralyzed by this fear although each mistake is a new learning experience. So, the teacher’s role is to control the learning environment in class and try to accept the student’s mistakes and correct them in a way which does not put down their self-confidence. This is because students cannot learn without knowing their mistakes. Hence, accepting the mistakes on the student’s part is an integral part of learning. Furthermore, Baran-Lucarz (2013) posits that what should be taken into consideration is that the listening anxiety during class is a serious obstacle which prevents students form experiencing their effective oral learning skills and reduces their speech production as well.
Communication, Language Barriers, and Solutions
The previous section has presented notions about language learning, communication, feedback, and some learning barriers. In order to reduce these barriers and their effect on the students’ communication skills, MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) believe that motivation should be the first step of learning. So, the following are questions that must be considered by the teacher in order to help breaking the language learning barriers: what is the precise meaning of motivation? How can students be motivated? And how many types of motivation exist? It is worthy to note that when it comes to motivation, the less motivated students will not grasp the ideas in the same way that motivated students do. For this reason, MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) state that teachers must keep in mind that there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. The extrinsic is related to practical goals, traveling, and getting a better job, whereas the intrinsic is more related to the inner self-motives which make language a personal need to achieve good communication. As a result, this will inspire students to work hard.
According to Stakanova (2018) one can learn English through different methods such as school projects, classroom debates, creative writing, role play, and academic controversy as well as through compiling a language portfolio. Such learning techniques have four advantages in the field of students’ communication. First, they link students’ intrinsic motivation with the extrinsic ones. Second, they enable the oral communication to be a fulcrum in classroom activities. Third, they help teachers invent techniques that might improve the discourse skills of the students. Fourth, they boost the teaching skills and ground them in motivation techniques (Stakanova, 2018, p. 30). Breaking down the language barriers and raising student’s awareness and motivation is a thought provoking issue which was dealt by various scholars in the field of language learning and teaching. ‘Language Barrier’ is a term used to describe the inability to transmit knowledge between two or more persons due to linguistic inequality (Alam et al., 2018). Moreover, this problem is similar to communication difficulties that arise among individuals because of the difference in the individuals’ backgrounds and language dialects.
“A language barrier is a figurative phrase used primarily to refer to linguistic barriers to communication, i.e. the difficulties in communication expressed by people or groups speaking different languages, or even dialects in some cases” (Smith, 2010, p. 3).
In line with the above quotation, Smith (2010, p. 5) highlights seven types of language learning barriers in an attempt to present some solutions in order to overcome them. The barriers are the following:
- Cultural Barriers: which include ethnic, religious, and social differences, where these can create misunderstanding when individuals try to communicate.
- Emotional Barriers: An example of this includes the trouble of listening. So, trouble of listening to others can occur if students are consumed by negative emotions. Emotions such as anger, hostility, and frustration make it difficult for the students to hear outside themselves. That is, they don’t listen to what is said to them.
- Physical Barriers: Such barriers include impediments which separate people from each other and draw territories.
- Gender Barriers: are related to the variation which exists among masculine and feminine styles of communication. For example, while women often emphasize politeness, empathy and rapport building, male communication is often more direct. Thus, choosing these two styles without awareness could become a barrier.
- Interpersonal Barriers: These barriers are created by students in order to distance themselves from others. Such barriers take place through withdrawal, special activities, and meaningless rituals which keep the individual away from having any real contact.
- Perceptual Barriers: Having different views in interlocution can create confusion and misunderstanding. Hence, without giving it any thought, the individual might view a message only form one’s own perspective and mindset, rather than look to see it from the other’s viewpoint.
- Language Barriers: Word usage is of essence. Accordingly, ending up not using words will certainly prevent one’s message from being conveyed. This not only applies to language in general, but it also applies to buzz words, and jargon.
Consequently, overcoming these barriers is not up for grabs. Shukla (2021) firmly believes that it takes great awareness and will in order for the individual to adapt and view communication with fresh eyes. However, if one begins to focus on how these communication barriers affect one’s everyday conversation, then the individual will be on the right way to becoming an effective communicator.
A language barrier, in Bouarqoub’s (2019) view, is a serious problem which communicators face because of four influential factors. First, the delay in self-translation from English into the individual’s original language. Second, the lack of understanding of certain idioms. Third, the lack of the English vocabulary necessary for the understanding of other speakers. Fourth, the inability of the individual to translate some complex sentences. Furthermore, Bouarqoub (2019) posits that language barriers prevent individuals from effective communication. Such barriers include dialects for example. That is, while two people may technically speak the same language, dialectal differences might prevent effective communication between them. Therefore, in order to prevent such an ineffective communication, Stakanova (2018) proposes ways to face such barriers. This can be achieved when the individual uses plain language, finds a reliable translation service, seeks the aid of interpreters, and uses repetition as well as visual means of communication. Hence, using simple words in order to convey one’s message will ease the communication task. In addition, learning the art of listening plays an important role in improving the oral communication process. Also, staying calm during communication has decisive effects on the sender and receiver, which ultimately leads to a better style of communication.
Another expert in the field such as Hunyadi (2016) states that language barriers can correlate to comprehension barriers. Thus, a student who does not know the classroom target language could reveal issues in mastering the classroom subject matter. Even if the student eventually masters the classroom language, she/he might still be behind in various other subjects. Moreover, teachers must consider the link between immigrant populations wherein students have not achieved mastery over the target language, and those whose parents don’t know the language and have no access to information about the overall culture of the target language.
Pavlova (2008) proposes sense-making techniques which alleviate the aspirations of the students, their self-assessment and learning autonomy. These techniques include problem-solving tasks, debates, critical thinking, questionnaires, and project work. In addition, role play, drama discussion projects, and argumentative group discussions make the students more productive because they activate their interactive skills. Thus, these techniques enable the teacher to convert life experiences into classroom lessons and encourage the students to deal flexibly with each other, disregarding the differences in their abilities. Hence, this provides students with a feeling of an intense motivation and the will to develop their communication skills further.According to Amirian and Komesh (2018), communication barriers have become a major problem in the vernacular medium where students from minorities face difficulty in speaking English. This reduces their confidence level to speak up in the classroom. As a result, their doubts do not get cleared. This in turn negatively affects their academic performance. Also, these students even face problems in communicating with their peers as they feel uncomfortable in speaking with the peers. This problem does not allow every student the opportunity to meet their full potential. Consequently, they do not succeed in school and as such this lowers their morale and self-esteem. Thus, it is necessary to teach students through providing them with explanations in their own native tongue after having explained the lesson in English. Concurrently, this will build their confidence, boost their motivation, and help them succeed. Most people in the world do not speak English and even if they do, English would be their second or third language. Hence, in line of what has been presented, language barriers are a common challenge because they widen the communication gap. With the surge of globalization we have to face such a challenge. So, language barriers can be severed when we work with individuals of various cultures and backgrounds; a notion which empowers innovation, creativity, and success.
Furthermore, one must always keep in mind the following question: what are the factors which cause language barriers? The researcher of this article views that language barriers arise from diverse notions, especially those related to language use such as word choice, semantics, images, symbols, metaphors, gestures, and language dialects, in addition to the workings of pragmatics.
Bouarqoub (2019) considers that human communication is a social interaction activity. It is important in our daily life and is related to the act of creating, exchanging, sharing ideas and information, opinions, and facts as well as feelings and experiences, between sender and receiver. As such, communication is the basis for surviving since language is the main tool of communication. More precisely, communication is the bridge among relationships. Yet, language continues to be the barrier which does not enable the individual to convey the message in the desired manner. Furthermore, sometimes language barriers and lack of communication lead to catastrophes.
Hence, it is imperative to highlight some definitions of communication. One of these is suggested by Marume, SBM, Jaricha, E., and Chiunye, TM. (2016). First, communication includes sharing meanings, opinions, facts, thoughts and life experiences between sender and receiver. Second, communication involves a meeting of two minds, i.e. an understanding between the individuals who are communicating. As such, communication is achieved when the message is well-grasped; here the educational level of the communicators should be considered. Third, there must be a reception of the response after communication in order for the interlocutors to be sure that they have transmitted the message accurately, whether the communication is verbal or non-verbal. Finally, communication necessitates that the receiver understands what is meant by the message.
In line with Marume et al. (2016), Bouarqoub (2019) views that communication is of two forms: verbal and non-verbal. The first includes the transmission of ideas thought, feelings through speech or writing. However, the non-verbal is the use of sign language in order to exchange one’s ideas, emotions etc. This takes place via body language, facial expressions, eye contact, voice tone, posture, and hand gestures. Moreover, Bouarqoub (2019) presents eight elements of the communication process as follows.
- Originator: is the one who commences the communication and bears the responsibility that the receptor comprehends the message.
- Code embedding: involves translating one’s thoughts into symbols or other formats of expression.
- Message: is the bulk of the communicative event which includes one’s opinions, ideas, etc.
- Channel: is the frame or utensil in which the message is conveyed such as newspapers, TV, digitized means such as the internet, blogs, social media, and applications.
- Code breaking: involves translating what is sent into a language graspable to the receiver.
- Receiver: is the one to whom the message is intended. This individual could be a listener or a viewer, i.e. a member of an audience.
- Feedback: is how the receptor either reacts to or interacts with the intended message. Feedback could be verbal, non-verbal, good, or not good. Feedback is essential in order to secure that what is said has been appropriately understood. When this takes place, communication is achieved.
- Influence: the sender communicates with the intention of effecting what the receptor knows, how he/she acts, and behaves.
Thus, communication is a two-way street between two individuals or more. The purpose is to deliver a specific message on the condition that it is comprehended swiftly. Hence, communication paves the way to enable individuals achieve particular aims.
In a similar track, Jureddi and Brahmaiah (2016) present basic traits of effective communication as follows. First, the sender should employ a language suitable to both sender and receiver. This enhances understanding and secures that the receptor achieves a level of knowledge. Second, communication builds and maintains relationships among interlocutors. Third, the communicator should engage with others in a manner which scaffolds honesty, ensures that the intended message is clear, complete, true, concise, and informative. Fourth, the message should be molded to the context of situation of occurrence, the interlocutors, and the setting. Barriers to successful communication are obstacles facing the sender and receiver, wherein the intended information becomes stale because of language ‘blocks’ which impede comprehension. Thus, eliminating such impediments requires highlighting some of them. These begin with the physical, cultural, social, and psychological. Since language is a decisive tool in communication, it follows that the opposite is true. That is, if language ceases to be a powerful tool then communication shatters because what is being transmitted between or among the interlocutors becomes a scattered incomprehensive message. This shows that communication is not always a success and as such it is a challenge due to many other obstacles such as the linguistic or others. Such obstacles include the setting, time, and place of the message, i.e. the environment surrounding the message, and the way it is said. Furthermore, misunderstanding during communication causes psychological effects such as anger, frustration, anxiety, waste of time, and violent attitude. Miscommunication also results from linguistic impediments. Interpretation problems arise from linguistic barriers which in turn cause semantic problems. Such problems are influential barriers because they obliterate successful and effective communication especially when the interlocutors have no language in common.
In addition, Bouarqoub (2019, pp. 70) summarizes the factors that impede communication and render it fruitless. First, the interlocutors speak the same language but different in accent and as such, misunderstanding causes the interlocutors to be confused. Second, wrong word choice as in abusive or impolite words. Third, the poor knowledge in the grammatical and speaking rules of the language between the communicators. Fourth, the use of informal words such as slang, unclear and ambiguous words, as well as wrong translation of what is being said, all result in misinterpreting the intended message.
Hence, successful communication is a link which bridges the sender and receiver into communicative safety which guarantees that whatever is being communicated would be well-received and well-understood. For this to occur between interlocutors, Drury and Ma (2002) propose some means to break through the language barriers. First, interlocutors should refrain from poor linguistic knowledge and must fortify such a knowledge. As such, they should be accurate in their word choice and avoid ambiguous lexical choices such as jargon, confusing and difficult terms or expressions. Second, interlocutors should be aware of each other’s culture, tradition, and social intricacies. In this way, they will always hold the meaning of what is said in check, for example, by using simple words and sentence structure. As such, they should not assume that they already know about each other’s backgrounds. Third, interlocutors should utilize language accurately, precisely, and carefully. Fourth, interlocutors should use language which is suitable to both of their knowledge, avoid idiomatic expressions or technical terms, and ask for clarification of information. Fifth, if miscommunication occurs, then either one should hire experts in language, translation, interpreting, or bilingual individuals. All contribute to decoding the message. Finally, because feedback is of essence in successful communication, the interlocutors must utilize an amalgamation of appropriate verbal and non-verbal expressions. Accordingly, these proposed means, if followed precisely, can lead the interlocutors to the shore of successful communication.
Communication among people is essential and miscommunication is unescapable in certain situations. This is because of the barriers to language communication. The first step to successful communication is knowing the barriers and the factors behind them which hinder communication and render it futile. Thus, the second step is understanding how these barriers work so that one can strive to find solutions. Breaking down language barriers is not something easy. Because of this, the individual should cooperate with other social members to arrive at agreed upon solutions. Hence, when the interlocutors find common grounds to their communication, then whatever the barrier type is, it will fall apart. As a result, the message sent will be understood by the receiver as it is intended by the sender. It is only by overcoming language barriers that effective communication is arrived at. Therefore, it is imperative that both parties cooperate in order to make themselves as communicative as possible.
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