by Elisa Pekkola, degree student in Energy and Environmental engineering

Two student girls with carboard signs

It may sometimes be difficult to express your thoughts in your own language, but even more so in a language that is not your mother tongue. Ideas might get lost in a jungle of different tenses, and finding the correct words may seem impossible. This is one of the reasons I find it often challenging to communicate with people from different cultures.

I have made some observations about the situations where the message during a conversation may be misunderstood. Asking for advice for example in some homework dilemma might lead to confusion. As a person tries to explain even a very familiar topic in another language the result can be anything but clear. Another situation I find interesting is day-to-day conversation and especially the way people from different cultures react. A blunt or even a slightly rude comment leaves you to wonder if you had said something inappropriate. This is however not the case.

A group of students wadering on the street with carboard signs.Different cultures have a way of saying things in a certain way, using certain words. Especially in Finland we love to stay comfortable in a conversation without having to put too much effort both in receiving and sending a message. It may be so that a person doesn’t have the same competence of a language as you do which leads to a conversation that is hard to make sense of. Also some words may be used in different contexts depending on the culture which can be confusing in communication. Something that sounds completely normal in Finnish can mean a completely different thing translated directly into English.

As a Finn I find it uncomfortable in a conversation to admit you did not understand what the other person meant by something. But the only way to make clear of a conversation is to face the difficult words and ask bravely. Learning the verbal culture of another country is a fascinating part of intercultural exchange!