Riding the metro in St. Louis

Tonia, my wife, and I have been spending a few days on a vacation in St. Louis.  I can’t say that we’ve been practicing our foreign language skills a lot, however there has been something that once again reminds me of context and background knowledge and how it affects our listening comprehension.  We’ve been riding the metro around and before each stop the driver announces the connecting bus lines.  Tonia and I keep looking at each other with a sense of “Was that English?”  We simply don’t understand a word that the driver is saying.  Why is that?  It’s because we are unfamiliar with the neighborhoods in St. Louis.  So, what comes out is something like, “Bus 57 to blah blah blah, bus 34 to blah, blah, blah, bus 78 to blah, blah blah.”  So much of our listening comprehension is tied to our previous knowledge of the context or situation.

I know that if I were in a foreign country, going through the same experience, I would be blaming my lack of listening comprehension on my limited proficiency in a foreign language.  However, this trip to St. Louis has been a good reminder that often it isn’t my limited proficiency in a foreign language, but my limited background knowledge. That is what affects our ability to understand.

The picture:  Out at the Cahokia Indian Mounds.

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2 Responses to “Riding the metro in St. Louis”

  1. jp 吉平 Says:

    it took me a good couple of months to start understanding the announcements on the NYC subway, and i was riding that 2 or more times a day

  2. Tommy Says:

    Hey Orlando,

    I like this one. My recent observation is that polyglot world can be self-providing. In other words, by operating mostly within the limited world of learning languages, we often tend to ignore the need for deeper learning, background knowledge, understanding, reflection on the nature of things, local realities, etc. The point is, just as you suggest, there is so much you can learn only by taking the test of the streets.

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