Culture/Speaking/Listening – Anticipation of the Situation

Do you have trouble understanding people when talking to them? Do you get frustrated because you can’t understand what someone is saying to you or asking you? This blog post will attempt to address that frustration and will discuss the importance of anticipating questions and responses in any given situation.

Suppose you are in a foreign country and you decide to go to a restaurant – particularly a fast food restaurant (Yes, they exist everywhere, unfortunately).

You arrive at the restaurant and you are about to walk in. It is at this point that you should be anticipating the experience in many ways. Here is a list of the things you should be anticipating:

  • The Environment
  • The Cultural Circumstance
  • The Conversation
  • Specifics and Non-Negotiables
  • Wild Cards

The Environment

Better prepare yourself for the environment by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does the restaurant look like a popular restaurant? If so, do you think it will be busy? Look inside: is it busy?
  • Does the restaurant look like it’s a sit-down restaurant, or a fast-food restaurant?
  • Does it look like it is a place for casual dining or formal dining?

The Cultural Circumstance

Different cultures have different expectations as to how everyday situations should be handled. For example, in Germany you generally set money on the counter instead of handing it to somebody. However, in Spanish-speaking countries, it is generally considered rude to place money on the counter and is expected to be handed to somebody (I’ve learned both uncomfortably). Do you know how long it usually takes someone to order? How long it usually takes to receive your order without cause for concern? It might be wise to walk in and observe a little bit if you are uncomfortable or unsure.

Some cultures tend to be more relaxed/take your time (Hispanic cultures) and others are more hurried/get out of my way (American culture). What has your past experience or your studies taught you about these expectations?

The Conversation

You walk in and figure out what you want to order. You then approach the cash register. The cashier rambles something off and you have no idea what he or she just said. Now wait a moment: did you anticipate what he or she was going to say? What do you think he/she said?

A reasonable assumption would be any of the following: “can I take your order,” “how can I help you,” “[formal greeting]”, “what would you like,” or “what do you want?” or some variation of any of those. When you anticipate the scenario and the conversation about to happen, you narrow the parameters of discussion and possibilities. This makes it easier to expect what to hear and therefore, easier and more likely to comprehend.

You must anticipate the conversation before it even happens and you must anticipate what you will say in response. Repeat this process back and forth. You will find yourself having an easier time communicating.

Specifics and Non-Negotiables

Before going into that restaurant, make sure you know how to communicate any specific needs or non-negotiables. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • What specific needs do you have? Are you disabled in any way?
  • What specific questions will you need to ask?
  • Do you absolutely hate onions? Do you have a peanut allergy? How will you communicate these needs effectively?

Wild Cards

Suppose you say hello to a guy and he starts talking to you like you’re about to have a 30 minute conversation (and you have a train to catch in 10). Suppose something bad happens. Suppose a fire breaks out. Suppose the cashier starts rambling at you in a very quick, angry tongue and you don’t understand why. Although instances like this are quite rare, it is good to have a backup plan and be prepared by having your survival phrases ready to pull out of your linguistic holster at any given moment. Examples of survival vocabulary:

  • I don’t understand.
  • Sorry.
  • Please repeat.
  • Please.
  • Thank you.
  • Help.
  • Emergency!

Listening – 2 Comprehension Tasks (Novice)

This post will discuss a couple of tasks that you can do once you find a useful recording or video to work with.

Once I stumble upon or find a recording or a video, I usually do the following activities with the resource that I have found:

In short, I…

  1. Listen to/watch it twice and scribble down words or phrases that you understood.
  2. Write the main idea of the recording or video in English (or in the target language if I’m feeling spunky).

Additionally, make sure you pay attention to:

  • The visuals in the video
  • The title of the recording or video

Take this recording in German, for example, from the website Audio Lingua (great website!)


Here is what I did when I listened to this recording:

  1. Looked at the title: “Ich wohne in einem typisch deutschen Reihenhaus” –  I live in some kind of typical, German house or structure
  2. Listened twice and wrote down words or phrases that I heard (with one listen): I wrote these down on a notebook first.
    • Ich wohne in…
    • ein
    • da gibt es
    • Keller
    • 3 Räume
    • Raum
    • drittens, meistens,
    • Hobbykeller
    • machen – Musik, Sport, dann…
    • eine Gestetoilette, links
    • gibt es die Küche, grosses Wohn und Esszimmer, dann geht man hoch
    • 2 oder 3 Zimmer
    • manchmal
  3. Write the main idea in English (or not-so-perfect German):
    1. Der Mann erzählt uns die Dinge in seinem Haus. Er beschreibt sein Haus und erzählt uns wieviel Zimmer gibt es und was gibt es im Haus.
    2. (The man tells us about the things and rooms in his house. He goes into detail about what items there are and what and how many rooms there are).