NYC Divorce and Family Mediator Jennifer Safian explains the comfort expatriates feel when able to speak in their native tongue during times of emotional turmoil. I recently came across a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal on the impact of language on moral decisions made by people speaking their language of origin as opposed to a later acquired language. Though not faced with the same dilemmas, this article triggered in me some thoughts about my work with expatriates living in the US.

I myself grew up in France, speaking French, English, and Spanish. Being almost equally comfortable in all three languages always gave me a huge advantage. However, French was my mother tongue and I do still count in French, even after living in the United States for the last 30 years! I also have to admit that I still feel a special connection when I meet someone from France with whom I can speak in my mother tongue.

Part of my mediation practice serves expats who have immigrated to the United States from French or Spanish speaking countries. They came with their families, sent by their employers, to work in the US, or they came to start their own businesses. Many of them are quite fluent in English, at least to ”talk shop.”

However, when they are caught in a family conflict, facing a separation or divorce and going through deep emotional turmoil, they seem relieved to find someone who can speak their own language and understand their culture. As described in the WSJ article quoted above, expressing yourself in your own language allows you to feel more emotionally connected, while speaking an acquired language seems to create a distance from your true self.

I feel very privileged to be able to offer clients living in a country which is not their country of origin, a place where they don’t have any language barriers, where they can use any expressions or words that they feel reflect who they are and what they want.

Have you had any experiences abroad where you struggled with the language and where much energy was spent trying to find the right words to convey a message? Please feel free to share those experiences with us in the box below.

Jennifer Safian

jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator
divorce and family mediation
upper east side of manhattan (nyc)
new york, ny
(212) 472-8626
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