When learning to speak a foreign language the biggest factor is not being inhibited by fear or shame and just opening up your mouth to talk. Thats all well and fine for me, I can, by force of will, make myself talk and make conversation even though I feel like an idiot. But, the biggest difficulty and hindrance I’ve found in practicing the new language is in the attitude and inhibitions of the one I’m speaking to. When first meeting people most will think it’s a novelty and cute that there’s this foreigner around and will take the time to find out the basics of who you are and where you are from, but after that relationship continues there becomes a period of awkwardness when you are around. Most people, when they are done with the novelty of it, just don’t have the patience to talk with you, they want to be heard and understood, they don’t want to understand. So, if you can’t speak well enough, by their standards, they just won’t want to talk to you, they’ll be crass with you, joke around with you, and/or completely ignore you…all the while I’m just there, trying my darndest to understand the conversation and be involved in it.
I’ve had a number of experiences now when I’ve been invited to parties and I’ve found they are both the most difficult but also the best times I’ve had talking and practicing the language. Always the first 2 hours of the party are those most horrible 2 hours of my week/month. These are people who I’ve established relationships with and now they’ve come to this party to relax and talk and have fun, not to expend a ton of energy trying to communicate to a foreigner. Those first hours, ugh, I can’t tell you how many times someone has just turned away from me in, what I thought was, the middle of a conversation; or ignored something I said; or just plain obviously did not want to talk to me…ugh. But, all that changes after about 2 hours..woohoo! It’s amazing to see the difference, all of a sudden, after they’ve been drinking for awhile, the same people who were showing me the cold shoulder are chatting me up! You can obviously see that they are much looser, at ease, they don’t care about being understood, they just talk. They all of sudden don’t care how I sound, they just listen and chat. It’s amazing the difference in atmosphere, and it’s amazing how it affects me to. Their ease of spirit transfers over to me and I become much more at ease and am able to allow the language to flow out of my mouth. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about me being drunk! Rather, when the one who is listening doesn’t care about being understood things go so much easier…because I care about understanding. I will ask them to repeat themselves, and they don’t care now, whereas before, before they had too much to drink, that annoyed them. I’ve been around alot of different people in varying contexts who have been drunk to varying degrees and they all have been some of the best times I’ve had practicing the language. I realize that these times are great for language practice but nothing more, they usually forget everything that was said or talked about by the next day.
In contrast, there’s another group of people that, I found, are even better at language practice; Mature believers who have had experience with missionaries or foreigners. Love exudes out of them, there seems to be no selfish motive to the relationship. They don’t have the “what’s in it for me” or “what can I get out of this relationship” attitude. They don’t care about being understood, but they care that you understand. They don’t care what you sound like, but they want to understand and care that you can be understood. They are the most gracious, patient, and loving people. The best people to know and talk with.