Friday, December 11, 2015

How to Overcome Communication Barriers in the U.S.


By Oluwaseyi Oni
Student Ambassador,

Emory University

After a 23-hour journey from Port Harcourt in Nigeria via Frankfurt, Germany, I arrived at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. I still had a 2.5-hour journey to Warner Robins, Ga., which was my temporary stop until school started. 


Upon my arrival in the U.S., I experienced communication barriers as I tried to make my way to my destination. Read on to get tips that can help you overcome some of these barriers:


A shuttle pulled up beside me displaying the logo of a transport company that plied my route. I approached the driver, explaining that I wanted to get to their office in Warner Robins. He wrote my name in the manifest he was holding and heaved my bags into the back of the shuttle, doing the same for the other passengers. Little did I know that the shuttle was heading in the opposite direction of my destination.

When we arrived in Athens, the driver told me I was at my stop. I reminded him that I was going to Warner Robins, and he told me he thought I said I was going to Athens. How “Warner Robins” sounded like “Athens” to him, I will never know; all I knew was that I had to make another five-hour trip to my intended destination.

While I was not happy about the circumstances at the time, it led me to consider how communication barriers exist between people of different cultures, even when they speak the same language. If I had such an unusual experience as a native English speaker, what do people who aren’t fluent speakers of the language go through? Moving to a new place can be difficult, and this difficulty is often compounded by miscommunication and misunderstanding.

For international students choosing to study in the U.S., here are some suggestions to help you overcome communication barriers:

1. Make friends with Americans 

Don’t isolate yourself. Cultivating friendships with Americans will help you integrate better and give you ample opportunities to practice the language with native speakers.

2. Watch American movies and read novels

Doing this will improve your English vocabulary, and improve your overall English-speaking and comprehension skill level. 

3. ESL classes

Take classes in English as a second language if they are available where you are. It will help you to improve your level and make everyday life in English easier.

4. Learn by observing

Take notice of how Americans react to different situations in everyday life. This will help you know how to respond to particular types of situations.

5. Make friends with people of a similar cultural background

Establish a support system with people from your culture, because there are times when you will want to be with people who understand you. However, be careful not to spend too much time with them so that you can still practice English with your American friends and acquaintances.

6. Don’t be discouraged

Anything worth doing takes time and patience. Learning about a new culture and making new friends takes time. Be up for the challenge! Also, don’t be offended if you have to repeat yourself because of your intonation in order to be heard or understood.

As an international student, you have a wealth of experience to share with Americans. Learning how to communicate effectively will foster the development of meaningful relationships and facilitate a smooth transition into a new culture.



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Oluwaseyi Oni, originally from Nigeria, is working toward a master’s degree in public health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta. She is a member of the Class of 2017.

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