I’m having a (basic) conversation in German when my interlocutor throws out a few words I’m not familiar with. “Wie, bitte?” They help me out, saying it in a different way and still I don’t understand. I check the facial expression: friendly. I consider the context: not a life-or-death situation. Feedback: not essential. I make my decision and react with a smile and a barely audible utterance. My response isn’t important and it’s just as well, since I have no idea what has been said to me. I resolve to let it go this time. Lately, I seem to be letting it go a lot!
In fact, just the other day, as I was waiting for the pedestrian lights to turn green, an elderly man stopping beside me made a comment. “Sorry?” I asked him to repeat it, which he duly did. Still not comprehending, I smiled and returned to looking at the traffic light.
After a while of life in a new language, you get used to not understanding. When your language journey begins, you, a bright-eyed, keen as mustard go-getter, try hard to understand the various spoken messages that come at you. You don’t understand it all, but with determination and some repetition from a very patient speaker, you try to bridge the gap between what you think was said and what was actually said. This phase is short-lived.
Was it Socrates who said, “the more I learn, the less I realise I know”? Whoever it was, I wholeheartedly agree. Time takes its toll and constantly struggling with wave upon wave of information is exhausting, so bit by bit your standards drop. In the future I’ll be a confident and capable listener, but for now I’ve made my peace with just getting the gist. More or less.
a life-or-death situation - a very serious situation
an utterance - something someone says
barely audible - almost impossible to hear
it’s just as well - it's a good thing
resolve to - decide to (formal)
let it go - forget about it / not worry about it
keen as mustard - motivated
a go-getter - an ambitious person
bridge the gap - make the gap smaller
short-lived - doesn't last long
wholeheartedly agree - completely agree
takes its toll - have a bad effect
make my peace with - accept
getting the gist - understanding the main idea