Traveling and learning languages


It is Travel Tuesday (I decided).  Since I’m not out frolicking around the globe, let’s talk about learning languages while traveling.

QuebecCity 002

A guide outside Customs in Quebec City said “bonjour” to me so I politely said “bonjour” back.  He then started speaking French to me.  I told him I didn’t actually speak French and he was surprised and said my accent was very convincing.  This was hilarious to me because I only know to say hello, goodbye, thank you, and count to 5.  In my family we rely on my brother-in-law Josh to do the communicating in France.  I spoke with the guide for a few minutes and then went on my way.  My first moments in Quebec City were positive and brightened my whole outlook of the day.


Question to readers:  Does anyone speak any language fluently?  If you do, that is totally awesome.  I speak enough Spanish and Italian to get by, a smattering of German, and can be polite in French, Greek, Russian, and Portuguese.  I think there is 5 tier language fluency system: 1) you can communicate with anyone, 2) you can get by without offending people too much, 3) you can order in a restaurant and ask and receive directions the bathroom, 4) you can be polite (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, pay for items, ask for the check) 5) you wander around aimlessly.

Longmen Grottos

I hate being a #5 anywhere I go but in Russia I felt like that for the first few days until some of the words and their meanings sank in.  Reading signs is very helpful, although that can be a problem in Greece, Russia, and rural Asia as their alphabet systems are very different than our own.  Chinese dialects are technically glyphs where words have a different symbol- so you would have to memorize thousands of glyphs to be able to read.


Sometimes the attempted translations leave me more puzzled.

Traveling and learning new languages is an essential part of visiting a new destination and learning the culture.  Many places do speak English (which is great for after you exhaust the 10 new words you know) but starting the conversation off in the native tongue is a good way to build rapport, friendship, and respect.  It is a giant pet peeve of mine when tourists automatically assume everyone speaks English and become annoyed if the other person doesn’t.  I’ve seen it, it isn’t pretty.  Whether it is learning “good morning” and “thank you”, even if you accent if terrible, give it a shot.  The smile you receive from the shopkeepers and other locals is priceless.

One of my favorite ways to learn some Balinese was to speak to the school kids as we passed on the sidewalk.  They all wanted to say hi and speak to us.  I needed to learn a few more words in Balinese.  It was an exchange of information at its easiest.


These are my little Chinese friends that I worked with.  So very cute and fun!

I’ve forgotten all the Balinese already, 90% of the Thai, and 50% of the Russian I picked up.  But each time I go somewhere new, I find that learning a new language is easier than the time before.  My brain is adapting! (or something like that)

Now if I could just figure out those tonal languages!

Question:  What languages can you speak?  Sort of speak?

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2 Responses

  1. Michael Cohen says:

    I like your levels system; good call! I used to be Level 3 in Swedish and Level 4 in Russian but it’s all gone now. After 3 years of High School Spanish, I was still Level 5, but that speaks more to the poor way languages are taught in school than my diminished IQ…

    • Andrea says:

      I remember zero Swedish. Was it from the conference a few years ago, family, or class? My Spanish after high school was terrible. My 4th year we are supposed to read Don Quixote but we were so behind we read it in English and not Spanish. Education fail.

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