Different languages no barrier to communication

Baptistcare Gracewood Residential Care in Salter Point has started a new Win-Win Culture Exchange program involving Japanese volunteers and residents that is proving we don’t need a common language to communicate effectively.

Inspired by her own experiences as a volunteer when she first arrived in Australia, Shizuka Yokoi, now Lifestyle Coordinator at Gracewood, saw a great opportunity to connect Japanese youth with Australian seniors. Individuals living with dementia often find it difficult to communicate verbally, as do new Japanese residents of Australia, but Shizuka realised that social interaction is much more important to these individuals than spoken communication.

“When I first arrived in Australia, my spoken English skills were very limited. However, I found I could communicate to residents with advanced dementia without the use of higher language skills. The most important thing is not speaking or listening with your ears, but listening to the residents’ hearts and respecting their values,” revealed Shizuka.

“I also received residents’ love which eased my loneliness in Australia. This built my self-esteem as I could see I was making these people happy even though I was unable to fully converse with them. It was a win for the residents and a win for me!” she said.

Shizuka took the initiative to contact Japanese youth living in Perth and an au pair agency supporting Japanese people living in Perth, which promoted the volunteering opportunity at Gracewood to its members. As a result, four au pairs and a group of ten youths responded. The results of their voluntary work have been truly amazing.

Shizuka highlighted one particular instance when a resident, Mary, who was showing signs of anxiety, completely relaxed as she was joined by a volunteer who encouraged her to listen to music.

“A volunteer, Aya, asked her gently if she would like to listen to music with her. Aya found Mary’s personal music collection on her iPod and they sat together with a headset each, holding hands peacefully listening to music.”

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit baptistcare.com.au/volunteering or contact us on 1300 660 640.