Please Talk Slowly

Anyone who has ever studied a foreign language knows that one of the things you will say almost every conversation is ‘please talk slowly’. When it is combined with ‘can you repeat that’, ‘I do not understand’ and ‘what is this called’ you have the core arsenal for surviving discussions with native speakers. Having to say these things repeatedly is often a barrier for language learners, it is feels like you are a burden on your conversation partner. Many people just slink off and find someone who speaks their language, rather than suffer the frustrations of such a staccato dialogue.

I have just made a discovery that mitigates this entire problem and I think it will revolutionize language learning. It is this, people with mental disabilities make perfect conversation partners for improving your language skills. There are several reasons for this.

1) They often naturally talk slower than other people.

2) They often have a more limited vocabulary than other people.

3) Everything they say tends to be obvious, at worst simply mundane.

4) They do not mind repeating themselves, in fact they often love it.

5) They will talk with you tirelessly for hours regardless of how
boring the conversation is.

I made this discovery while sitting peacefully beside XiHu lake in HangZhou. I had just finished having my picture taken with some locals when a young man with a nervous disposition and facial ticks began talking to me about how much my clothes cost. The cost of things was a recurring theme in our conversation for the next hour. Aside from the occasional non-sequitur that undermined my precious grasp of the context, I was able to converse with him about animals that lived in Australia, how many Chinese people were in Australia and how much food costs in Europe.

Australia once had a sheltered workshop program in which people were gainfully employed in the demoralizing task of crushing aluminum cans. It was shut down in favor of having them placed in regular businesses, but in my experience this never resulted in reasonable levels of employment, hence we have a large uncapitalized labor force. These people should be recognized for the benefits bestowed by their natural limitations. They could be employed language schools all over the world, to hang around in the foyer and lunch room to chew the fat with nervous little foreign students who cower at the thought of trying to converse with a tradie or a barmaid.

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