Monday, 8 September 2014

Paraphrasing

You know, when you don't know a word, so you try to explain it using other, more simple words, so that people understand you? 

Ah yes, that's what I meant - paraphrasing!

The above format basically sums up every conversation I've had so far in Belgium; talking about a topic that I understand (somewhat optional), not knowing an absolutely fundamental word, and then proceeding to explain it like a child.

Advice to anyone hoping to have a conversation in a new country: know how to say "it's a thing that does X" or "you use it like X" or "you use it for doing X". Bonus points if you include awkward gestures to reinforce your message!

It is great fun trying to understand anything that anyone says, and to be honest with sympathetic adults it's no big deal, but with children who are either incomprehensible anyway (because they are very young) or who speak impossibly fast on purpose so you have no chance of understanding (because they are evil), it is what I would call 'a challenge'.

The key to understanding is of course to ask, and when there is a new word that you think you might understand, paraphrase and ask if it means that. For example, a tartine (as far as I can tell) is like an open sandwich; basically bread with stuff on it. So, the first few times I came across this mystical food object, I wasn't sure whether tartine meant bread, or sandwich, or a fancy open sandwich, or something else. Only after asking "is a tartine like this or just the bread?" (and googling it later to make sure) was I fairly sure what the word meant. Basically repeat this process several times daily and you can start building a useful vocabulary (sorry, when you were told in school that the phrase "I have a calculator in my pencil case" was extremely useful...your teacher was lying).

I have a limited useful vocabulary at the moment, but I really hope that by slowly (and painfully) adding a few words at a time, I will be able to reach my goal of not being exceptionally awkward for ever and ever.

Let's see how that works out, shall we?!

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