Be Willing to Say “Huh?”

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.)

ordeing coffeeWhile 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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Chris Abraham

Thousands of people around the world know exactly what Chris Abraham had for lunch yesterday. With 13,000 followers on Twitter, posts on Digital Next blog and, and two popular blogs of his own, Chris has a wide audience and is generally considered an interesting guy. However, his content is far from the despised what-I-had-for-lunch posts, as Chris frequently imparts his knowledge of social media, salivates over expensive cars, and documents his adventures as an American living in Berlin, Germany. In between his trips across the Atlantic to and from his homes in Washington, D.C. and Berlin, Chris runs a social media marketing agency called Abraham Harrison LLC [AHLLC] with his business partner, Mark Harrison. AHLLC has 35 employees from 12 countries. The diversity of culture and language makes staff meetings less like, well staff meetings, and more like a UN summit. Many employees could conduct meetings in English, Portuguese, French, Spanish, or German, or a combination of all five at once. Not wanting to be one-upped by his staff (again), Chris is remedying his lingual shortcomings by learning German with Rosetta Stone. He also would like to impress his friends in Berlin with fluent, witty, dinner party conversation in German. Rosetta Stone has commissioned Chris to share his German language learning journey and his experience with TOTALe on this blog. Chris’s insights on social media marketing, the BMW, and Berlin dinner parties can be found at and Chris can also be found on Twitter ( and Facebook (
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