Learning a few or more words of a native language enhances your trip in so many intrinsic ways. Sadly Americans are woefully inadequate in multiple languages, almost every European one meets, speaks at least three languages. Despite the prevalence of English, speaking the local language, even if just a few words, enhances a visit to a foreign country.
Every local you encounter will appreciate your effort, and in fact, you may receive slightly better treatment than you would otherwise. Travel is simply more rewarding and much more fun when you speak the language. It’s all part of the adventure. Learning the customs of the country, understanding the people and the culture will expand your horizons and provide you a greater appreciation of your environment.
High school or college language skills may have vanished; if so, Stanford and community colleges offer language classes. Berlitz may be the next best thing. Rosetta Stone has terrific language software. Myngle is an Internet based service, which offers real time instruction in 50 different languages. Many of our phones offer apps with phrases or translations aids, but knowing a handful or more words of a local language without a handheld device will add value to your journey. For the seriously difficult languages not based on the Roman alphabet, such as Chinese or Japanese, when sounding out the characters is absolutely impossible, purchase Me No Speak: China-Japan or Thai. Great guidebooks or IPhone apps, with illustrations of objects – point to an object and let the little book speak for you.
Focus on the country you will be visiting- when a client initiates a trip with me, I instantly send a guidebook and a recommended reading list. Study national authors, examine their history, and pore over maps. Use the long flight time traveling to your destination as a study period.
I frequently make a handful of flash cards to practice basic phrases and keep a few of these in my travel journal. In Marbella, my driver, who had taken one English class and I chatted for 45 minutes- me in my broken Spanish – he pronounced us ‘simpatico’ by the time I reached my destination! I was thrilled to interact with a local and understand his perspective on his country and answer his questions about America!
A smile is universal, understood everywhere – combined with a few words and some English, one can usually master any difficulty. My goal prior to my first trip to Italy was to win an argument in Italian- I didn’t accomplish this feat, but I did meet locals and felt my efforts were truly appreciated by my hosts in Milan.
Master basic phrases: learn 50 to100 words in the language of the country; key phrases: thank you, please, I’m sorry I don’t speak…very well. Where is…What is the cost of?
Dine at local restaurants. Avoid restaurants with menus in many languages- they are for tourists, you must dine like a local! My first trip to France, I had a cheat sheet, which I timidly kept under the table and roughly translated a dish in a very fine restaurant as Foie gras wrapped in a wet dish towel-not good!
Most of all, enjoy and don’t be timid in your efforts, your language attempts will be appreciated.