Do you feel frustrated when you can’t understand a few lines in a really interesting movie you’re watching? Or when you miss some words of that cool song everyone’s been listening to lately? How about when you travel abroad and feel like you’re under water because everyone’s accent seems so different from what you expected? Let alone when you try to ask the guide something and he just looks at you like you’re from outer space! Ok. Count to ten, take a deep breath, let it out, and get ready to read something that will make you feel better:
it’s not always your fault.
Yes, my friend, it’s that simple. All those times you felt like the tiniest living being on the face of the Earth, you were just fretting over nothing. Because, the movie? Didn’t you realize that the characters were all speaking at the same time? Maybe you weren’t even supposed to understand that line clearly. And the song? Do you know how many times the singer had to record that part so it came out correctly? It’s not easy to say that many words in such a short time. And the trip abroad? Are you sure all those people were locals? I’ll tell you, the hardest thing to find in New York is a New Yorker! You may think everybody was born in that area, but you might be talking to people from all over the world, with a wide variety of accents. And the tour guide? Do you have any idea how many questions these guys answer everyday? Maybe he was thinking about the pizza he was going to have with his girlfriend later on and didn’t even hear you, but was embarrassed to ask you to repeat.
Hey, I’m not letting you off the hook here! I’m not saying that you always speak perfect English, with a perfectly clear pronunciation and that you should always be able to understand what everyone’s saying. All I’m saying is: it’s not always your fault. You shouldn’t beat yourself up just because you didn’t get what someone said or someone didn’t get what you said. Just remember all the times this has happened when you were speaking your mother tongue.
How many times have you had to ask someone to repeat what they’ve just said – in Portuguese?! Until fairly recently I thought the lyrics to Rita Lee’s “Lança Perfume” went: Lança menina/ Lança todo esse perfume/De baratinha/ Não dá prá ficar imune. That song came out when I was 8 years old, how could I know what ‘desbaratina’ meant? What does it mean anyway? And don’t get me started on Legião Urbana…
And I always tell my students what happened to me when I was in England for the first time. I was staying at a youth hostel (good old times when I was a youth!) and I wanted to try the typical British breakfast. Call me crazy, but I was excited to eat that heavy food first thing in the morning. The problem was: there was a breakfast buffet, and I wasn’t quite sure what was typical and what wasn’t. We had to order the food from a lady who commanded the buffet, so I asked her in my most perfect International English: “please, I’ll have a typical English breakfast”! For the life of her the girl could not understand what I was saying! After repeating and rephrasing it a few times, I asked the guy beside me to just say the same thing. He did. And she got him perfectly. You know what she told me? “Sorry, love, I don’t speak your language!” (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a native speaker of English herself, and wasn’t used to accents other than the ones she heard everyday).
So, my point is: if you’re having trouble understanding or being understood, keep trying until you succeed, but even if you don’t, don’t blame yourself. It’s not always your fault!
Please don’t take this as encouragement to stop studying…