Lessons from a six-year-old

I learned more German from a six-year-old than I ever learned in a classroom. It’s true. You see, when I lived in Germany, what I couldn’t express in the local language, I could usually fudge with a bit of English sprinkled into the mix. Most of the adults in my university town could speak a little of my native language, and many of the other words I found problematic had somehow found their way into the ubiquitous consciousness of the western world.

Not so with my six-year-old friend. She’d had no English lessons, and in fact, she had barely started school. Add to that the fact that she didn’t hesitate a bit to correct my accent or to giggle churlishly when I made a mistake. She was one tough cookie. I had to be a quick study because I had no other way to communicate with her.

How much effective would we be at communicating if we didn’t share a common nominal language with the object of our conversations? I wonder if we get lazy because we assume the other person knows what we are talking about. What if we had no choice but to dive into the other’s language because we shared zero common ground? When I was in that position with my young German friend, I suddenly became more aware of the pitfalls and tried that much harder.

What if we pretended we had no common ground? Try it once and see what you learn.

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