Santiago metro
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Stupid Tip of the Day: Do Not Speak a Different Language TOO Well…

“The problem I have with language in general is that even if I learn it and can speak it, I may not understand it when it is spoken to me — especially when spoken at normal speed.”

Stupid Tip of the Day: Do Not Speak a Different Language TOO Well…

That statement appeared in this article which I wrote on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. I have recommended in past articles here at The Gate that you learn at least how to say thank you and please in a different language. Sometimes learning those words is easier than at other times. For example, once I learned how to say thank you in Lithuanian, I knew right away that I would never forget it…

…but I am a stickler in terms of pronouncing the words of another language correctly; and when I can say an entire sentence grammatically correctly and without a thick accent, I can feel proud of myself — especially when I receive positive feedback from a person whose first language is the one I am attempting to speak.

However, the drawback is when someone to whom I am speaking initially does not realize that I really do not know the language. One example is when I was at the Arauco Maipu shopping mall in Santiago recently and stopped at a vendor to ask for directions to get to the Monte Tabor metro station.

About two minutes of some of the fastest speaking Spanish I have ever heard — punctuated with a couple of finger points and hand gestures — later, I was more confused than when the question was asked. I really did not want to bother the helpful woman by asking her to repeat herself; but I learned just how valuable the phrase habla despacio, por favor — or speak slowly, please — became for me.

I always thank a person for being patient with me pertaining to speaking his or her native language. She was no exception…

…and yes — I eventually did wind up at the Monte Tabor metro station.

Keep in mind that I never formally learned Spanish as a language. Every word of Spanish which I know, I learned during my travels to countries in which Spanish is the primary language.


There is nothing like seeing the unexpected delight shown on the face of a person native to that country when they see that you have taken the time and effort to learn their language — even if it is only one word…

…and when someone approaches me in the United States to ask me a question in broken English with a thick accent, my own experiences remind me to be patient and to answer that question as best as possible in a way that he or she understands what I am saying. I will even try to speak his or her language for that person to be more comfortable.

When a person apologizes to me for not knowing English better, I usually reply with the truth: “You speak English better than I speak your language!”

I have learned that people around the world are usually patient and helpful when I try to speak their language in asking for information — but I have also learned not to speak it too well if I do not know the language well enough to understand the response.

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

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