The Bachelor: Language Barrier Is Not An Excuse


Written by: Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc.

I hate to admit it, but like 10 million other viewers around the world I became hooked on The Bachelor reality program and saw it for the first time this last season. After a long hard day’s work, watching scenes of beautiful people and places and with absolutely no intellectual demands on my brain – The Bachelor was actually a relaxing way to unwind.

For the last 20 years I have worked with New Canadians so I have grown to learn a lot about second language acquisition. Most of the people who I have worked with would be at the Canadian Language Benchmark of 5 or over so their English is good enough for a survival job – at the very least. For the first few weeks, I was trying to figure out whether the bachelor, Juan Pablo really had a language barrier or were they referring more to his accent. I came to realize that while he might not know all of the slang and idioms like “the little package” he was referring to, but he could not blame his rudeness on his language barrier.

First of all, Juan Pablo has studied in the United States and worked in English television programming,obviously he would have had a very good command of the language. When he spoke he did not make a lot of the usual grammatical mistakes you would expect someone with a language barrier to make. He used articles and pronouns appropriately. Sharleen, the opera singer hit the nail on the head when she said she was looking for someone who was “more cerebral”. She was looking for someone who she could have an intellectual conversation with and it wasn’t him. Juan Pablo did not have a language barrier that prevented him from having an intellectual conversation: he simply lacked depth.

Even with New Canadians with low levels of English like a 5 or lower, they can often make connections, analysis and evaluations of events although with grammatical mistakes. However, if you listen, you can hear the depth of their logic. A language barrier does not make you self-centred. Juan Pablo’s lack of insight and ego-centrism has nothing to do with his language barrier.

He cannot use his language barrier to make excuses for his derogatory comments about gay people and those with cognitive delays. He has lived in the United States long enough to know that these comments are unacceptable.

Furthermore, when his parents said that he was often rude that was very revealing. Although Juan Pablo says he “likes to be honest”, this type of directness is sometimes even too much for North Americans. But according to Edward T. Hall’s theory of high context communication among Latin’s, Juan Pablo’s communication style would be highly inappropriate for a culture that likes to handle conflict in a more indirect way than spelling it out the way he did. I gather his style would not be a big hit among Latin people who are known for their exceptional politeness.

And by the way, Juan Pablo, you cannot blame your language barrier for not knowing how to say: “I love you” or “Will you marry me?” But blame it on something else. Sometimes, “it’s not easy” but it’s not “okay”. I have two pieces of advice for you: seek a therapist and get a thesaurus.

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