When trying to communicate across different languages and cultures, we sometimes look for creative ways to find common ground. As we’ve found through our international work in Lao PDR, a key factor that unites us with the fishers we work with is our shared interest in their local fish species. We recently visited some Lao villages to interview the resident fishers about their fishing practices. During the course of our conversation, we pulled out some handouts that depict the technology we use, and also explain FISHBIO’s work in the Mekong River Basin. We hadn’t yet translated the fliers into Lao, and some villagers are not even able to read or write – but a few photos of fishes spoke volumes.
We had included a photo of a local fish species, the Indochinese sheatfish (Kryptopterus dissitus) for scale to demonstrate the small size of a Passive Inductive Transponder (PIT) tag, as well photos of other fishes native to the Mekong River. The fishers seemed pleased to see pictures of fish they recognized, and told us they frequently catch that species of sheatfish in their village. While cross-cultural communication comes with many challenges, such as making sure important details aren’t lost in translation, it’s comforting to know that we can always return to the basics of speaking the language of fish.