What do you do during the day? I pretend to understand!


Pretending is rude! Pretending means that you are false or have no interest in your conversationalist. However, many of my readers have done it. I’m sure! In fact, this blog is aimed at people who are having new experiences and among them there are many volunteers like me.

Roughly, this is the volunteer’s process. Study English at school, perhaps with good marks. From elementary school to high school, he spent more or less 11 years of his life learning and practicing this language. Before looking for a volunteer project, he studied English as a self-taught. Above all he undertook to improve listening, for example by following podcasts. Hence, he arrived in Galway, Melbourne, Manchester, Washington, proud and self-confident. He engages in his first conversation. He asks for information, for example the hours of the bus, and in response he receives a sort of this noise: “u gh to bjnbus fk ckoo s”. Die inside! He is on the verge to cry.

End of the dream! Beginning of real life! The dream is the years he spent in the school, when the teacher said him: how are you? Life is: “ah ah rie” “ho uo rio” etc. It depends on the place he has chosen. Because there is something that many native English speakers should comprehend. In this world, there are languages, such as Spanish and Italian, where you read the word as it is written. Now, if you change the Italian accent, the same word becomes bigger or stronger, but it’s still the same word. When you change the accent in a language where the word is written differently from the pronunciation, the accent completely changes the word. Because for us, and I apologize for this, “andstend” and “undstant” are not the same words!

The strange side of the matter is this is not obvious or clear for the British, Irish, Australians etc. It time and again happened that people asked me for elementary things, for example “bacon” and that I couldn’t understand. In their eyes I have always detected a type of disapproval, as if they were thinking: oh my god, I just asked you for bacon, I mean, it’s a extremely common word. Yes … but your pronunciation isn’t that so common.

Even because nobody tried to slow down while talking to me, ever! And I know for us that it is important to get used to the true way of speaking. And I know we can’t expect people to speak slowly and waste time with us. At the same time, you cannot expect us to understand you immediately. Especially in the beginning.

Now, can you imagine, on the contrary, if you have to stay in Italy for many months? At the start, do you desire us to talk as usual or do you prefer another approach? Imagine if you arrive in Italy and we start talking to you in Italian speed and with our hand gestures! Imagine if you arrive in Naples and people, instead of speaking in Italian, speak with you in Neapolitan (The language of Naples!). None of the people of northern Italy can understand the Neapolitan language and in my city every day, even at school, we speak Neapolitan.

Did you imagine this scenario? How might you feel? Discouraged? There! We feel this way sometimes. The feeling is we will never really understand English and perhaps we will never speak it well. Off and on, we think it’s unfair. We love our languages. We love our culture. And the English sound is so far away from us. Sometimes we leave because our countries don’t offer us what we want from life. But when we get home in the evening, after 7,8,10 hours of work, we open YouTube, What’s App, Facebook because we have to listen to our language for just a few seconds, because we feel the need. For this reason, when you meet a guy from abroad, especially if he is at the beginning, remember these words and try to make his daily struggle less tough!

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