The first time I stepped into a foreign land was in 2008 when our family went on a trip to China. It was there that I saw how serious the Chinese are in doing their business. As part of the tour, we had free time to roam around the shopping district and buy souvenirs and other local goods. The merchants there are very attentive as well; once they see that you are interested in their merchandise, even just by taking a short glimpse, they’ll do everything to make the transaction. (One lady even chased me to the next alley just so she could sell me a jacket.) What’s amazing is that not all of them can speak a language other than their native tongue. So how do they do it? Despite its usefulness since it first appeared, many people still cringe at the thought of it—mathematics! With just a few taps on the calculator, they negotiated the price and sealed the deal.

Figures also come in handy with my work as a desktop publishing artist at Lexcode. In our line of work, we handle formatting of multilingual documents. In some cases, both languages of the source and the translated documents are foreign to us. So the figures serve as a guide that the paragraphs correctly match.

Another challenge that comes with my job is producing designs. There are days where I run out of creative juices, and so I search for design inspirations to refresh my mind. One day, I came across an article that features a “T-shirt that can speak in any language.” Designed by Iconspeak, a brand aimed at making communication easier across the world, this shirt uses the concept of universal icons to express your message. The most commonly done activities and necessities searched for during travel are the icons present such as restaurants, restrooms, public transportation systems, and Wi-Fi. Although arguably, symbols vary from one culture to another, the simplicity of the concept brings a great deal of convenience, especially when traveling to countries with very difficult languages to learn.

Sometimes, we don’t need to be able to speak a language to communicate effectively. It can be through mathematics, figure numbers, innovative shirts—anything really when people put their mind into it. All we have to do is give our attention and pick up cues to establish common ground.

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