Pretty much ever since I have been coming to the Philippines, and especially since I have lived here, I have heard foreigners like myself complain from time to time about communications with Filipinos. I hear some foreigners say that Filipinos say things that are lies, and they intentionally lie. I have heard foreigners complain that they have told something to a Filipino and the thing that they said was seemingly ignored – not paid attention to. Personally, I don’t believe that Filipinos lie or disregard what they are told by foreigners, but I never quite understood why there was a communication problem. I knew that the problem existed, but I wondered why.
Last week, I started taking language lessons from a local teacher here in Davao. This lady has taught Bisaya to foreigners for 17 years now, primarily to Missionaries. During our first language class, my teacher and I were talking about communication problems encountered between foreigners and Filipinos. My teacher said a single statement that really clarified this issue for me. She told me that in any communication between people, it is not just the words that are traded between the individuals, but also the cultural background and understanding of those words that goes through. For example, when I have something to say to a Filipino, in English, what I say may have one particular and clear meaning to me, but it may mean something a little different to the person that I am talking to. The cultural background of the Filipino may be so different than my background, that the same statement has a bit of a different meaning, or understanding to the Filipino.
I am not sure if I am even explaining this adequately so that it can be understood. When my teacher explained this to me, it was so clear, but I am not sure that my words are clear enough to get the message across. I hope that my message can filter through my awkward handling of the subject, though, because when she said this, it was like a light bulb flashed in my head and things became very clear for me.
Anyway, based on this little conversation I had last week, I feel strongly that when we encounter mis-communications (whether we realize it or not), it is important that we give the other person the benefit of the doubt, and be understanding with them. After all, I feel that it is rare that they are actually going against what we have told them, they probably just didn’t understand it clearly enough. When I think about this, it makes me also realize it like this – if I were trying to speak with the locals in Bisaya, there would certainly be parts of the conversation that I did not understand clearly enough, and they may just wonder why I am not following what they told me!