In just 18 minutes I’ll be closing the screen on my laptop and walking down the street to an appointment at our ‘medico di famiglia’.
I have an appointment, so I’ll first interact with the receptionist, who will look up from her desk and say “Buongiorno”, or “Salve” if it’s the one who knows me.
And I’ll say something like “Ho un appuntamento con Rossi alle nove e venti.”
And she’ll say something like “Puoi andare dentro!”, or “Si accomodi”, depending on whether Rossi is already free or is still dealing with a patient.
Once it’s my turn, I’ll start with a “Buongiorno”, and he’ll reply, “Buonogiorno Stephens”, no “Signore”, which is something I’ve always wondered about.
Perhaps it’s because we’re about the same age and have known each other for a long time. He probably calls his colleagues by their surnames, too, perhaps even his wife.
And so to my point, with ten minutes remaining on the clock: successful interactions, in any language, depend on much more than just grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
One is that the participants have ‘expectations’ about what’s going to happen (who do you speak to, what do you say, what will they reply), which are based on their ‘cultural knowledge’ of the situation (how people like us typically handle situations like this), and those ‘expecations’ govern ‘turn-taking’ (who speaks next).
If you have ‘expecations’ and ‘cultural knowledge’, you’ll be fine. Without either one, interactions can be difficult, embarrassing even.
And screwing up the turn-taking, even in your own language, can mess everything up.
Two minutes remaining.
Think through an interaction that you often have – with your partner, first thing in the morning – with a colleague, at coffee time – with your kids, when you shoo them off to school.
Bet you’ll recognise patterns.
Now do the same with your foreign language. Pick a situation you’re familiar with. Think through how it typically goes.
For example the first few utterances in an online conversation lesson with your native-speaker teacher.
Can you predict how it goes? Does you feel comfortable?
Or does the situation strike terror in your heart?
(Back from the doctor’s)
One thing to add, on reflection.
Being familiar with how things work, how people do things, enables you to function comfortably in a language EVEN IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND EVERY WORD.
The acoustics weren’t great in the ‘studio medico’, or perhaps I’m getting a little deaf, but there were one or two moments when I heard the person speaking, and was able to know what they were saying, but without being 100% sure that I understood each of the words.
And, of course, the reverse is true. My wife quite often says things that are gramatically correct, fully heard, and yet the meaning of which I can only guess at.
For instance, she’s particularly bad at ‘reference’, that’s to say mentioning someone or something she’s already spoken about.
“I was chatting to Sharon and Roberta in the bar, and then my mum came, too. So we had cake, which is why I’m late.”
“That’s nice dear. And what’s the gossip?”
“She’s still having problems at work.”
“She who? Your mum? Roberta? Sharon?”
Communication can be effective or ineffective irrespective of the extent of your knowledge of vocabulary and structure.
Understanding is not just words and grammar – it’s ninja-level guessing that makes a great foreign-language user!
And here’s a final reminder about this week’s half-price Ebook of the Week, Il campo di papaveri, which costs just £3.99, but only until Sunday night!
A young artist, who can’t pay his rent, offers to paint his landlord’s flat instead. But guess who the landlord’s daughter turns out to be?
- .pdf e-book (+ audio available free online)
- .mobi (Kindle-compatible) and .epub (other ebook readers) available on request at no extra charge – just add a note to the order form or email us
- 8 chapters to read and listen to
- Comprehension questions to check your understanding
- Italian/English glossary of ‘difficult’ terms for the level
- Suitable for students at any level
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
How do I access my ebook?
When your order is ‘completed’ (allow up to 24 hours), a download link will be automatically emailed to you. It’s valid for 7 days and 3 download attempts so please save a copy of the .pdf ebook in a safe place. Other versions of the ebook (.mobi/Kindle-compatible, .epub) cannot be downloaded but will be emailed to people who request them.