A common problem for ex-pats is not understanding the language. But sometimes the locals speak English. When they do speak English, sometimes it can be difficult to understand them because of their accent. However, occasionally a local speaks English, does so clearly, and the ex-pat might still not comprehend the meaning.
Today, for example:
1. As an assistant junior high English teacher, one of my primary jobs is reading aloud sentences from the textbook. This allows students to hear correct pronunciation, and when they repeat after me, I can affirm or correct what they say. Today the seventh graders were dragging their feet. 23 kids in the class and half of the volume when the phrase is repeated back is provided by the teacher. So she came up with an idea.
“This time,” she said, “we will speak as if we are in a hospital.” She looked at me to proceed and gave me the nod.
Okay. How do people speak in hospitals? She had lowered her volume during the sentence, so I decided to go with that.
“Should I speak quietly?”
And off I went in a stage whisper.
After I had finished, the teacher continued: “Next we will read the passage like we are in the gym.” She looked at me.
“Do people speak loudly in gyms?”
“I can do that.” And I projected throughout the next reading.
2. On the drive home my driver asked me if I drove a natural car in the United States.
“Do you mean a hybrid?”
“Hybrid, no. Natural car.”
[pause] What could he mean? We arrived at our destination.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”
“That is natural car. Yellow plate.” He gestured to our left. “White plates, not natural.”
I hadn’t the foggiest. “I’m sorry, I still don’t understand. I will look it up on the internet and we can discuss it tomorrow.”
“Natural” cars, for the record, are extremely lightweight. I’m guessing they get good gas mileage. We don’t have them in the States, and one website indicated they might be illegal there because they don’t hold up in crashes.
So there you have it, two cases from this afternoon alone in which I am completely befuddled by my own language.