Living in a foreign country can be a big challenge. While I am able to speak some of the language(s), I rarely understand 100% of what is said to me. If you’re not comfortable constantly interrupting everything, pretending to follow along is the name of the game.
At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of pretending to understand someone, but quickly came to realize that in most situations it is best simply to smile and nod like you know what is going on. Usually the context helps fill in the gaps of my understanding, though occasionally I lose the thread of the conversation entirely. In those situations, I desperately search for something I can follow in what is being said, all the while actively listening with a calm, comprehending look on my face. In many cases, the thread of conversation is easily caught, and the discussion can proceed without even a hiccup.
In some cases, however, I’m listening along to someone jabbering away in Russian when, unexpectedly, they stop talking and stare at me. Naturally, I realize I’m supposed to respond to something that I didn’t get. Awkward! I’m forced to admit I didn’t grasp something, and usually I get to hear it again.
Having spent time around small children lately, it occurs to me that this is also what children do, and maybe this willingness to pretend, go along with things, and be corrected by others is part of what makes children be such great language learners.