Monday, August 5, 2013

Don't Speak The Language? Don't Be Afraid To Go

Have you put off a dream vacation to Europe because you can’t speak the native language of the country you are interested in going to? Many people state this as a number one hindrance to booking a vacation to Europe. Yet it doesn’t need to be a show stopper – there are some basic things you can do that will help you along the way.

 In many European countries, the “young” folk speak some English and tour directors and hotel employees are often fluent in English. Many menus have the choices printed in the native language and English. But with the advent of smart phones, there are many ways to overcome the language difference if you do a little studying beforehand. In most countries, the locals appreciate it if you try to speak in their native language. Learn the words for hello, good-bye, please, thank you, pardon me. If you took a language in high school yet haven’t spoken it in 30 years you will be surprised at how it may come back to you in order to speak basic sentences.

 Buy a small dictionary or a phrase book with some common phrases. It is very easy to pull out your book and point to the words you want to say. Do some studying on the culture of the country or city you are visiting. Before visiting France, we read horror stories of people who felt the French turn their nose at Americans and refused to help if they had a problem. I did not find that at all. Because I took French in school, I made sure to say “Bonjour, Madame or Monsieur” and ended every conversation with “Merci” and “ Au Revoir” (thank you and goodbye). In Italy, “Buon giorno” (good morning) was my greeting to our hotel manager each morning, “Buona Sera” at night (good night), “"Come sta?" (how are you) “Grazie” (thank you). If you try to speak a few words you will find the natives appreciate it.

Your smart phone is your friend. Make sure you have internet access when traveling and download a free translator app on your phone. Google Translate, IHandy Translator, Translate Voice Free are a few of the best rated translator apps. You can type in what you want to say and it will translate it – hand it to the person you want to speak to so they can read what you want to say.

Book tours. Your travel agent can book tours for you before you leave and ensure that the tour guides speak English. Most tour guides are younger and speak very clear English and they will be delighted to share their native language skills with you as well. In Italy, I only had one instance of meeting someone who did not speak any English (or didn’t let on they did) when purchasing a train ticket. I needed to get to a certain stop and had to hand the girl the name of the place I needed to get to. She gave me my ticket and attempted to tell me where I could find the line I needed to get on, but I felt lost when she told me where to go. I arrived very early to try and figure out the train station. I was able to find the line I needed and found a policeman who pointed me to the line I needed to get to and I ended up getting to where I needed. We never spoke, I pointed to the stop and he pointed the way and the announcements on the train allowed me to figure out where to get off. When I got off, I was totally lost and simply stopped people along the way asking “Per favor”(please), told them what I was looking for and they happily pointed the way.

 Don’t fear the unknown. Embrace it, prepare for it and you will have a great time. It is very rare that you will find yourself somewhere that no one speaks English, but politeness on your part will go a long way to help you in a foreign country.

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