If you have had trouble understanding locals lately, fear not. Your language skills have not vanished overnight. Rather, the communication challenge switched to a whole different level of difficulty.Deciphering messages in any (foreign) language is a complex task on its own. Not only do you need to hear the message loud and clear, but also share the linguistic code of the speaker. Furthermore, the visual cues convey as much meaning as the audible information. In fact, words only account for 35% of the meaning in a conversation 1.
If you prefer face-to-face communication over phone calls, there’s a perfectly good reason: non-verbal cues are absent over the phone. You might hear the words, but the absence of gestures, facial expressions and eye contact might leave you at a loss.
In the current situation, most of these non-verbal cues are gone. In addition, speakers are often too far away to be heard, and face masks act like a barrier that muffles sound. Remember those times at the dentist when you can’t understand a word they are saying? As if speaking a foreign language weren’t difficult enough under normal circumstances.
Long story short: if you are a bit rattled, don’t doubt your skills. They are still there, you are just playing this round of the game in pandemic mode.