Functional language is when you can function in the language but it's not pretty. Or maybe it is. Maybe functional language is the meat and bones of it. Maybe it is all snapshots and the core of what needs saying. Except with an accent it's hard to tell whether the person speaking is intelligent or not. We don't know what to make of another person's language when they speak functionally. We just knit our brow, think for a moment, and answer their questions simply and probably loudly.
I've been on both ends of functional language. Hearing and speaking. It's humbling. You plead a lot with your eyes when you're trying and begging the universe that someone will get your combinations of mispronunciations, incorrectly conjugated verbs, and wild gestures and not think you are a complete idiot. It helps if you smile a lot. It doesn't help if you are on a schedule or really need something.
Since I've been on the other side, when I listen to someone speak functionally, I wonder about what they're like in their own language. I wonder whether they are intelligent and what passions are striking. I wonder if they are funny and if it is on purpose. I'm funny, and usually not on purpose. Especially in another language. So I try to be understanding and take the time that so many people have taken with me when I've been abroad and confused. I try to listen carefully and think of ways to communicate back. I do not offer directions if I don't know them well though. That drove me crazy in Chile. I remember being late for class because of getting lost running and being sent in wild directions all over the city until I was finally so exhausted I had to flag a cab to get where I needed to be. Also in Chile, I ended up in a town of just three people. There was a border guard and his wife, and one other guy. This time my Spanish was clearly not functional. The couple I stayed with had a cat named Osama Bin Laden they did not want to tell me about and the bus that dropped me off never returned. I had to hitch hike back to a "town."
Functional speaking often results in adventure and thick skin. I think of that and try not to assume someone is an idiot just because there's an accent and some incorrectly spoken sentences. If you have the guts to write in another language. Well, that's just brave.