Nodding my head and saying, “Ja bitte,”—yes, please—is my default. It seems to me that smiling, nodding, saying “Ja, ja,” and then, if the conversation continues, adding “Genau,” (literally meaning “exactly,” but in context meaning something closer to “Uh-huh,”) got me through a lot of interactions when I was a mere bouncing-baby learner of German. (I’m still but a toddler.)
While I was able to bluff my way through a lot of conversations, I began to realize that I wasn’t really listening or being an active learner. If the waiter, waitress, grocery clerk, cab driver, or vendor went off my script and didn’t engage me in a dialogue I had memorized, I was out of luck. Sometimes, roughing it with “Ja, ja,” and “Genau,” didn’t cut it. I needed to spend more of my time and energy listening and using what I’d learned in order to comprehend the conversation—versus just reciting the lines I had memorized. And I needed to be willing to gently ask the person speaking to me, “Noch einmal,” (once again), “Bitte langsam,” (slower please), or to repeat something, “Wie bitte?” Being able to understand the context of what you’re saying, and asking for the conversation to slow down, is an excellent strategy.
Will this mean that they’ll start speaking to me in English because I’m asking them to slow down and repeat themselves? Maybe, maybe not. Think about your everyday conversations in English. You’ve undoubtedly asked, “Pardon me?” or “What?” or “Huh?” countless times. We native English speakers are always asking each other to slow down or repeat.
In conversations, comprehension is essential. To make that a reality, take the time to slow the conversation to a manageable speed, listen, and really communicate.
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