racheljoi.com

language and learning

We have a new tester on my team. I recruited her, and I talked her up to my team. They liked her, and I was excited when it worked out. She’s not new to testing, but she’s new to mobile, and it’s a different beast and a different set of systems from what she was doing before. We’re now four weeks in. I’m exhausted.

I think the fault is mine. I expected to train someone like me, and not to talk a big game, but I didn’t get tons of help when I started, and I made it through okay. But I also expected to be able to use my own language, with my own mental images and way of explaining things. That hasn’t worked so well. I’m being asked to show my work, like in math or law, for everything, and it takes so much effort to put things in terms that make sense to her rather than just to me. She’s a very visual learner, and though I make diagrams in my head of things, they don’t necessarily translate well.

It’s gotten me thinking about how language is used to convey such complex ideas without many words. It’s like the Star Trek TNG episode Darmok, right? This society speaks entirely in metaphors, communicating deep ideas to each other but making it difficult for outsiders to come in. Carl and I have our shorthand, where one of us will mention a few words about a memory or an emotion and the other will instantly understand the meaning behind those words. We were at a conference once, and we ate with a couple who had been married for 50+ years and who were both deaf. Their translator explained that she didn’t know some of their signs, because deaf couples will make up signs that apply just to them. I found that fascinating, but it’s really no different from what we do with spoken word in our close relationships.

I fear I’m just becoming lazy with language, and assuming that, if people don’t understand me, it’s on them and not me. I know that’s the wrong attitude, and I’m working on it. But it’s just… exhausting.

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