July 22, 2014
I had the opportunity earlier this month to head to France for a week. With a free place to stay being offered up and wonderful company, it sounded like the perfect getaway. Not to mention, it had been at least 15 years since I was last in France which is a long time for someone who grew up moving and traveling around the world and I figured it was time to revisit a country I loved.
While I was in France, I was excited to see that the 11 years of French I took as a student was still somewhat intact. In fact, I found that I could understand about 80% of what was said to me IF I listened. Of course I had to listen, you say. But no, I had to really listen.
I couldn’t, like I do in the US, listen with half my mind while focused on something else such as surfing the web, writing an email, or with the TV on in the background. If I wanted to understand what was being said (and we were in parts in France where English wasn’t readily spoken so I had to understand what was being said) then I needed to turn my full attention towards the speaker and solely focus on what they were saying without any distractions. What I found was that the 20% I didn’t understand could be inferred based on watching their body language for cues.
And that got me thinking. How often do I do that when listening to someone in English? It’s easy to partially listen and still follow the conversation when it’s in your native language. But is that really giving the speaker the respect and attention they deserve. What would happen if we all pretended that whoever was speaking to us was speaking a different language and we focused, for those few minutes, solely on them and what they were saying? How much more might we actually hear (or see via body language) if we did this? Do you think it would make a difference in how we were viewed? Do you think it would make a difference in how they listened to us?