Why THEY don’t understand you

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2013 at 5:33 am

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You speak their language “perfectly” and yet THEY refuse to understand you.

By Antonio Graceffo

Why THEY don’t understand you when you speak their language “perfectly”: Apart from the fact that you don’t speak it perfectly, the other reason locals don’t understand you is, translating our own thoughts and ideas into foreign words may have zero meaning for a local. Sometimes, it’s because they wouldn’t express it that way. Sometimes, it’s because we have different experiences and observations about China (or whichever country you are in) than locals do. So, they have no frame of reference to anticipate what we are saying.

Here is an example of all of the right words, but wrong way of expressing it. What movie is this?: I love that American movie, where the world is exploding, so Marlon Brando puts his son in a machine of some kind and shoots him out into space.”

Of course, the movie is ————–, but you would be a liar if you said it didn’t take you a few seconds to figure that out. And you would be a double liar if you said that you ever heard a native speaker describe that movie in that way.

Unless you have thousands of meaningful contact hours with native speakers, you make these types of mistakes every day. And that is why THEY don’t understand you.


Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He is a polyglot and conducts ongoing research on listening-based second language acquisition.


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on




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