Posted on | June 14, 2011 | 15 Comments
Without understanding what the other person says, what you say does not matter. There is no conversation.
Most people would agree on this point. But yet some people will still think that you should try to converse in a foreign language as early as possible. What they fail to realize, I believe, is that it takes a lot of work to understand a foreign language, especially if the language remotely resembles your own.
I started learning Portuguese less than 4 months ago. Most of the work I did was input-related. I read and listened to comprehensible content. After I arrived here in São Paulo, I find that I can understand much more than if I were to split my learning between input and output.
To me, speaking to the locals is not really that difficult. The key is to understand what is said to me first. If I understand, simple responses like ‘sure’, “that’s fine”, or “I agree” are often sufficient. If I don’t understand, I become nervous. I would even stumble asking the person to repeat.
I always puzzle why some people would suggest others to engage in conversation with native speakers as early as possible. If you can understand the other person, perhaps because the target language is similar to yours, that is fine. If not, why on earth would you try to say something to someone without any hope of understanding the response. Are you trying to show off or what?
Understand first before being understood. I think the logic is as simple as that.