I was invited to a fancy restaurant dinner last night to celebrate my neighbor Israel’s 40th birthday. It was lovely, but also quite tiring trying to follow the fast flying remarks of the seven other guests at the table. At my level of Spanish, I just don’t yet understand enough of the language to be much more than a grasping observer. This got me thinking about the level of difficulty in various situations when trying to communicate in a non-native language.
Groups – These are always problematic. Trying to follow the volley of conversation, and jokes built upon jokes is extremely difficult. If you miss one link in the chain, it can be almost impossible to pick it up again until a new subject is broached.
Telephone – The advantage in talking one on one, in person with someone is that you have the advantage of hand movements and facial expressions as a surprisingly good guide to what they are saying apart from mere words. On the phone, you have no such luxury and it can be a struggle to understand.
Movies – These are somewhat like group settings, but the dialog is usually more nuanced and can be even more fast paced.
Speech patterns – People have an amazing variety of education levels, slang usage, vocal tics and other speech patterns that result in some people being very easy to understand and others being next to impossible.