Does the thought of speaking a few words in a foreign language
a.Strike you as wholly unnecessary?
b.Bring on a fit of the giggles?
c.Make you feel ill?
If you responded “yes” to any or all three of these questions, then you should think again.
The assumption that most people the world over speak English is misplaced. And saying it in English louder and slower will not make you any more understandable.
Even if you think that your language skills are laughable, remember that hardly anyone abroad would be so rude as to double up in paroxysms of mirth when they realise you are trying to communicate. On the contrary, most foreigners genuinely appreciate your effort.
However reticent you might be about speaking a foreign language, even to the extent that the very thought makes you feel ill, consider that you might be even more ill, if you do not possess a few crucial words. It could make the difference between life and death.
Key words and phrases
These fall into three groups: essential, social, and practical.
There are a plethora of phrasebooks, internet sites, CDs etc. from which to learn. They will provide phonetic transcriptions or repeat-after-me useful words and phrases. Write down the most essential, practice speaking them aloud and build your confidence.
Please help me – goes without saying.
If you have a medical condition such as diabetes, allergies or pregnancy, learn and write down the relevant terms.
If you have recently received medical treatment, especially for a serious condition, carry notes in the language of the country you are visiting. Although machine translation is a rough and ready tool, you should be able to find and copy the salient information – with dates e.g. of operations. You should also list the names, phone numbers, websites etc of the department where you were treated.
If you are travelling in countries where there are known dangers, learn the terms that would expedite help. For example: scorpion or snake (it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with most common venomous species).
NB . For ghastly human scenarios, it’s advisable to learn the phrases for I demand to see the Consul!
Please and Thank you and Thank you very much go a long way, if not the longest.
Pleasantries should include passing the time of day: Good Morning/ Afternoon/Evening/Night, and Nice to meet you.
Informal greetings: Hello, See you later, Goodbye
Niceties: In some cultures, it is expected to follow up with How are you? How is your family?
Read up on the country you are visiting and even if you cannot manage the whole phrase, the relevant word and a smile will suffice. Making friends should include My name is, and I come from xxx.
Basic words or phrases here are queries about transportation, lodging, restaurants, supermarkets and/or specialists e.g. bakeries, butchers, greengrocers as well as pharmacies, hospitals, doctors (see 1.).
You’ll need to know Where is/are? When? Who? And for directions, left, right, straight on. Carrying pen and paper is obvious. If you can’t understand the directions, your helper might provide a brief sketch. Learning days, times, quantities and numbers will prove equally useful. Have a great trip!