Common bonds transcend language barriers

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee
  • Anatolian Falcon 2012 Public Affairs
Language barriers present a unique challenge to communication efforts.

I cannot speak Turkish, and the Turkish air force Airmen with whom I ate lunch March 9 only spoke English with difficulty.

The Airmen are students in an English learning center and have been enrolled for about eight months. So, I spoke slowly and annunciated more clearly.

My efforts proved fruitful. The students and I began exchanging three- or five-word sentences among bites of Turkish barbecue. I didn't really know what to talk about once the formalities were out of the way. I didn't know how to convey my excitement and role in Anatolian Falcon 2012, a bilateral training exercise between Turkey and the U.S. involving a variety of air missions.

As a journalist, I strive to master my language. I am, after all, a communications professional.

However, there I sat dumbfounded. In those moments where my newfound friends and I sat in awkward silence, I remembered an analogy from my news university professor.

Communication is a ladder we all must climb.

At the top of the ladder floats grand thought, ideas such as freedom, peace and equality. Those abstract words bring to mind images or notions of a large scope.

For instance, the U.S. Air Force's capabilities are the first things to enter my mind when I think about the mission of the exercise. I know of the supremacy that comes from complete air dominance, the assured victory from owning airspace.

This isn't something easily communicated, especially in a foreign language.

The base of the ladder rests upon concrete. The concrete represents solid, real words that summon simple mental images: grime on a redeploying aircraft; handshakes; or seared meat atop flatbread.

The goal of successful communication is to hover at the middle of the ladder. Occasionally, I climb toward the top to write news articles about the Turkish and U.S. partnership, the big picture. Other times, I slide down to argue with a Turkish Airman about where to find the best kabobs in Konya.

There's a reason behind both of those actions. Spreading the word about the success of our joint training here lets the world know that Turkey and the U.S. can seamlessly integrate their forces. The argument about kabobs ends with a handshake between allies.

That's when I finally understood that language barriers do not truly hinder communication flow. The common bonds among international partners -- the pursuit of freedom, peace and equality -- transcend these petty difficulties.

I could not easily speak with the Turkish Airmen to describe my Air Force's capabilities. However, I know our two nations will continue to work together ensuring peace and stability throughout the region.

We finished our lunch and walked out of the language center to enjoy a refreshing breeze and a cup of tea. The Airmen made guesses at my age, and I asked if any of them were married. Conversation continued.

Eventually, I had to break away and return to work. We exchanged email information and bid one another farewell. Before leaving, I shook each of their hands.

"Tesekkur ederim," my friends. Thank you.