How do you go about learning a language before you visit a foreign country? Vote in our poll!
I haven't been overseas yet. Interested to see what others have done so that I will know what to try when it's time
Independent Traveler - Community Support
Click to email me
It's the good old guide book and dictionary for me.....and quite a lot of pointing and miming. I learnt French in the distant past, so can muddle through with that; just about every Brit spends holidays in Spain, so you generally pick up the essentials from that; Italian is similar, and many Europeans speak English.
I have the most trouble in Greece, with the different alphabet. Off the beaten track, I've no idea what posters and signs say....my OH can work out the lettering, but then we can't always translate it. We once had to go to a tourist office to have our hotel destination written in Greek, because no taxi driver could understand it in our alphabet.
And, of course, that's the same when you're trying to get by in Arab countries......
I usually try to bring a guidebook that has a phrase guide in there somewhere. I'm pretty lousy with languages, so I usually combine a handful of very basic phrases with a lot of hand gestures and puppy eyes, LOL.
I like the "puppy eyes"! I have been known to play the little old lady.....and it's always worked (Can anyone tell me where 's the Carlisle train?", feebly and with panicked eyes.... ;0
Perhaps this makes me geek (if it fits.....) but I really like learning languages. Of course I didn't know that until I began studying in school and it was just easy, fun so I kept at it. That was Italian.
On my first overseas trip in 1994, I was first headed to Paris, would be in Lyon and Monaco where both French and Italian are spoken, Switzerland add in German and Romansch, so I thought I'd teach myself French. At Barnes & Noble, after much time spent perusing the options I chose "Living Language" Basic French (they had an Intermediate Level too) and began listening (Native speakers; and reading along) during commuting and any free time I had. It worked out wonderfully and it wasn't expensive. Strangely, or maybe not so, when in Germany, Italian and French got me through when English didn't. I recommended Living Language programs for a long time because they were not expensive, easy to use and went just far enough beyond the traveler's needs to make one feel just a bit more confident.
I did then go on to study French formally as an adult at Alliance Francaise in my home city for about two years and became quite proficient but I had an amazing teacher and so much fun. It was rather expensive but from what I understand, not so much overseas.
Since I have studied French and Italian the most but haven't traveled lately nor do I speak it every day, when I try to use one and make a sentence, sometimes what comes out is something I must call "Fr-Italian" as I'll mix the two. Clearly, I need work.
I did attempt German using Living Language's method but I had a tough time with it. I believe it is a language that is best studied a more traditional way or perhaps with immersion (and study!) because it is not a romance language so it does not follow the patterns that French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Romanian do. That said, I have found parallels in languages that I've never would have expected to find, so one never knows! Sometimes in German, there can even be a part of a word that seems or is English so there's a chance of getting it. I think what threw me the most was the length of some of the words!
I have enough vocab for being polite although once, in a tiny town in the Northeastern countryside of Germany where almost no one spoke English I was challenged but managed some sort of "conversation" with a lovely German woman, and some others. Just lucky?
I usually can speak more Spanish than I realize - I think I get nervous sometimes. I've also managed to pick up Russian phrases but in Russia that would put me in the category I'd not want to be in, per my native born Russian friend but well, being a NYC'er, I like to think I can fight the hustle? Perhaps not so much in a language that is not my own, lol. I can see what the differences are in Portuguese but I don't know that it would be so easy.
Traveling in Asia was challenging but sometimes one just has to surrender and sometimes that's the fun of it.....again, picking up some key words is always good just for pleasantries but I'd not even try to worry about Character conversion though I know the symbol for Love on sight. I even painted it. When I proudly displayed it for a friend, he named it "Duck Playing Hockey"...........google the character....you might see it if you look hard, but that would be on a proper character; evidently I was a bit off.
As for phrasebooks, I've used Berlitz but often times I find carrying around a compact dictionary works well too - perhaps if one knows the language a bit.
I never usually drive so I'm not so worried about signage - YET. And I'm sure loving GPS when it comes to finding my way
I have translator apps on my tablet and smart phone and they are "ok" but I find that they make errors, although slightly insignificant, when it comes to gender conjugation. Most people would not fault a visitor for that. Also, having studied languages and watched many films, read books from foreign to English or vice versa I've found that translation, depending upon the context and interpretation, can be a very subjective thing. I never quite knew what was meant when someone said "oh this translation of that work is amazing/not great" but now, I get it. I suppose intellectually it can be nit-picky but in some cases, I've seen how the meaning of something can change dramatically.
Want to find out easy? If you know a language "fairly well" and are in a foreign city, go to a film that you have seen but is being shown in the Original Version, i.e., not dubbed, and you'll get it. One time I was in Paris visiting friends and to escape July heat, we decided to see "Gladiator" which I'd already seen at home. Seeing it in Paris, in English with French subtitles, I could really tell how much was left out/not said but then I suppose there is an inherent limitation to how this can be done in any way but I'm sure they do their best to preserve the essence of the film/story. If you've seen foreign films and read English subtitles, you get the same thing but enjoyment of the picture is still palpable. Although sometimes I am left a bit confused sometimes but that's usually just French films, as a rule....or maybe it's just me. LOL.
OHHHH, if anyone has watched "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" but only the English version, you must, must see the original Swedish version. I've never even see the English one and won't and NO, this is not a PG-13 film but, having seen the Swedish version and despite the intense story, I was wowed in a way I haven't been in a long time. But then, I love Foreign film and was thrilled to see a foreign film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It did win best foreign film, but it's rare a foreign film gets nominated with the mainstream films. It's an obvious must see.
I think trying a foreign language when in a foreign country, if possible, even just a little bit adds/enhances the experience and just puts one more "there". Win Win!
Message Board Moderator
Oh the drama works....I'm flashing back to Milano Centrale, arriving late needing to make a connection in this giant station; forget language, I could barely speak except to say "Ventimiglia" to the guy I found and then ran to the track number he gave me...and I couldn't say if he told me in Italian, English or both but I made it!!
Message Board Moderator