The most embarrassing kind of ignorance

It’s taken a lot for me to get over my native embarrassment at the inevitable moments where I look like an idiot when speaking another language. Of course I am going to mess up at some point; it kind of goes along with being a learner and hence not a native speaker, but I still dread those moments.

I think out of all of the times that I feel red-faced and impotent when I don’t understand, it’s the jokes that get me. If someone asks me a question I don’t understand, I can always ask them to repeat it or rephrase. When I’m in a group, I can just politely nod along and get by OK (as long as there’s no pop quiz afterwards). And then someone cracks a joke. And I don’t get it. And I just sit there like an idiot because, even worse than looking like I don’t understand is pretending that I do and fake laughing along with everyone else.

I’m not even sure that other people notice when I don’t laugh. Perhaps they secretly know that I probably wouldn’t think it was funny even if I did understand. But it’s little moments like these that make me really, really want to improve my language skills.

Does anyone else have a least favourite language situation?

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