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my grammar book has the following explanation on the usage of "to infinitive"

You will take him for an American to hear him speak English.
= You will take him for an American if you hear him speak English.

Never have I come across with such usage during my 8-year stay in nz, is it a common usage? isn't the meaning of "to hear" a little bit ambiguous even to the natives? or do you guys understand the first sentence as clearly as the second one?

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    The adverbial highlighted element in To hear him speak, you'd think he was American can also be expressed using progressive participles: Hearing him speak and Having heard him speak, I'm inclined to agree. – FumbleFingers Feb 25 at 14:00
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This is an example of an infinitive adverbial phrase. They are relatively common in everyday English, but most are a lot easier to understand than your particular sentence. Other examples are:

Practice doing something kind to help ease the suffering of others - Zen habits, Leo Babauta 2011
Did it make you feel good to see him? - Best American Short Stories, Stephen King, 2007

Replacing to with if you makes a conjunction clause, which is also an adverbial.

Adverbials can be used at the end of the sentence as in your example, or as an adverbial prefix. As with all adverbial prefixes, a comma is recommended if it's more than three or four words long:

To hear him speak English, you will take him for an American.

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    "To hear him speak, you would take him ..." / "if you hear him speak, you will take him ..." / "If you heard him speak, you would take him ..." – BillJ Feb 25 at 7:43

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