For example, if someone were to ask me, in Japanese, about the financial bailout currently being debated in the US, I might be lucky enough to catch a key phrase or two, allowing me at least to have a vague idea about what exactly it is that I'm expected to expound upon. Assuming I'm that lucky (and it's a big assumption), my strategy then is to resort to a type of linguistic flailing: I spout as many terms and phrases as might pop into my head that are in any way related to the topic at hand, in the (usually vain) hope that I will hit upon the desired/expected response.
I had planned to make up an imaginary dialogue to give you, gentle reader, an idea of what I'm talking about. But then I stumbled upon a video excerpt from a recent interview Katie Couric conducted with American vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Here is a concrete example of what it is like to speak about difficult topics in an unfamiliar language:
COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? Allow them to spend more, and put more money into the economy, instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?
PALIN: That’s why I say I, like every American I’m speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it’s got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and getting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade — we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.
Sarah Palin clearly does not understand English.
[Dialogue via Sadly, No!]
[UPDATE: URL (above) for "natto" fixed, courtesy natto nitpicking Brendan.]