Obviously, as the crazed Mango fans that you all are, one of the most exciting parts of traveling to far off lands is the opportunity to utilize all that you have learned and practiced (from the comfort of your own home, using your MP3 player, or even on your iPhone). As someone who has lived abroad, the prospect of conversing with native speakers is just as terrifying as it is exhilarating. What if my accent is horrible? Do I use the formal or informal? Which verb tense do I use? These fears can prevent us from making the most of our travels and speaking the language of the land. It seems so easy to slip back into our English comfort zone. If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s DON’T DO IT!!! Some of my best travel experiences have occurred in countries where I only knew a few words (hello, thank you, goodbye, etc.). You don’t have to speak a language fluently to earn the respect of the locals. Merely making an effort with these simple greetings and gratitudes (no matter how horrible the accent) is enough to create a connection with someone.
Take it from Benny Lewis, a world traveler originally from Ireland who has a self-proclaimed “love affair with other countries and speaking foreign languages.” At the age of 21, Benny only spoke English. A mere 8 years later, he speaks English, French, Italian, Esperanto, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and German fluently, and his newest venture is American Sign Language. His website chronicles his language learning and his travels, and he even has an awesome video where he uses all of the languages he speaks to give a tour of his apartment in Berlin. Impressionant, non?!
I actually discovered Benny’s site through a co-worker who thought it would be of interest to me, and she was right! One blog post I found particularly relevant is entitled “What will I talk about when my language level is so basic?” He brings up an awesome point that really makes you think about trying to use that foreign language you studied way back in high school: To be interesting, you have to be interested.
So what does this mean exactly? It means that to have a great conversation with someone, you don’t have to do all the talking. Crazy concept for us Americans, eh? Being able to ask questions and let someone else do the talking benefits you in two ways. Firstly, you really get to know the other person and discover the ways in which we, as humans, are all alike, despite our areas of origin. Also, it allows you to sit back and listen if you are not as comfortable with your speaking skills! He also addresses the common fear that locals will be upset if you speak the language incorrectly. While I can’t say this is 100% untrue, I can say that in my experience, it is almost NEVER the case. Definitely the exception and not the rule. Usually, they are thrilled that you are making an effort to preserve their language and culture.
I highly suggest checking out Benny’s site and taking a look around. He encompasses all that is Mango Languages and definitely lives out our core values. And next time you travel, I encourage you to use your language skills in any capacity that you can. I promise you will not be disappointed. If nothing else, at least be a little more understanding the next time someone from another country speaks to you in broken English. Pay it forward for the next time you are abroad and struggling while asking how to find the restroom.
Have you ever visited a country where you did not speak a word of the native language? How were you able to get around? Did you learn anything by the time you left?