Touring where you don't speak the language

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freebooter
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Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby freebooter » 7 Jul 2010, 9:38pm

I am considering touring through Holland, Germany and Austria. One thing that I am concerned about is not speaking the language. I did do some German many years ago but can't remember any of it. I suspect that along the routes I will be going that there will be many English speakers anyway but I always feel uncomfortable launching into English.

I have travelled before in non English speaking countries but never on my own before. Previously I have tried phrase books but found these to be useless as I either wasn't understood or when the person replied I obviously couldn't understand the reply. Hence I usually just relied on sign language and speaking English if they start.

Just wondered how other people approach the problem?

thanks

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meic
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby meic » 7 Jul 2010, 9:48pm

I know the feeling, I always feel very rude travelling through Belgium as I speak no Flemish at all, I never felt it was worth it to just pass through.
You dont meet many people who have bothered to learn any Welsh before visiting either. :roll:

I would suggest learning a few set phrases, that can explain who you are , where you are from and that you are sorry you cant speak the local tongue.
You will have trouble finding anyone under 40 who doesnt speak English in those countries, even the least educated yob in a sink estate will be better at English, than I am at German. :oops: :oops:

They possibly will not understand your attempts at German and THEY will switch the conversation to English, saving you from feeling guilty about not making an effort.
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Nutsey
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby Nutsey » 7 Jul 2010, 10:12pm

Seriously, don't worry about Holland. Nicest country in the world :) Just apologise or try to speak a little Dutch, and they will love you

TheBrick
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby TheBrick » 7 Jul 2010, 10:13pm

There was some explorer guy on the radio a few weeks ago who said he learns how to say "I'm sorry I don't speak your language" impeccably and that breaks the ice. Only been to France to try this and that with a my other poor French attempts resulted in smiles all round.

freebooter
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby freebooter » 7 Jul 2010, 10:23pm

Thanks for the replies

TheBrick wrote:Only been to France to try this and that with a my other poor French attempts resulted in smiles all round.


One of my experiences was in France when I was there climbing with a friend. He didn't speak any French but would immediately speak English to people. Perhaps because he was a big lad everyone accepted this. Once in a bakery he just pointed to what he wanted and asked for it in English. I tried pointing and reading the French names of the cards in the display and the assistant just looked offended and shrugged indicating she didn't know what I was asking for although it must have been obvious.

I was a bit put out that I got absolutely no credit for trying.

psmiffy
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby psmiffy » 7 Jul 2010, 11:32pm

TheBrick wrote:There was some explorer guy on the radio a few weeks ago who said he learns how to say "I'm sorry I don't speak your language" impeccably and that breaks the ice. Only been to France to try this and that with a my other poor French attempts resulted in smiles all round.


I worked in the Middle East and africa and that was always my policy -

I am ashamed to say that I have toured through practically all the countries of western Europe without being able to speak more than a few (sometimes absolutely no) phrases of the language of whichever country I have been in - however being an Englishman on a big bike seems to help and I have always been able to find out what I want - it sometimes quite fun communicationg in a "charades" - In recent years I have become quite hard of hearing and have absolutely no chance of understanding anything but the most familar phrases - luckily a large proportion of Europeans speak English better and clearer than a lot of the English people

As long as you learn the courtesies and are polite - Guten Morgen/Aben - Bonjour - Felen Danke, Merci Grazie Mille etc people will accept you as you are - I have too often observed fellow countrymen demanding to know something or get something and getting pretty short shrift

Holland, Germany and Austria have been English speaking for as long as I can remember buying sweets in shops as a five year old in the early 1960s - beer in the 70s/80s (too much English telly in those days) and observing my mother buying bread in the shops with her tutored phrases - "would you like it wrapped - madam"

ANTONISH
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby ANTONISH » 8 Jul 2010, 9:20am

I remember being advised to learn two hundred basic words for whatever country I wanted to visit. It isn't difficult and works quite well,also enabling one to pick up a few more words and phrases along the way.

mwallwork
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby mwallwork » 8 Jul 2010, 9:53am

It depends on what you are likely to want to say. Personally I've never needed much beyond " one of those, left, right, straight on, have you a room, please, thank you, hello and goodbye" but then I'm an anti-social b*****d. If you are anything like me it is unlikely that you will get your language skills to the point where you can discuss the socio-economic ills of the euro zone in an alien tongue but learning a handfull of tried and tested phrases seems the decent thing to do before johnny foreigner predictably replies in flawless English.

iviehoff
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby iviehoff » 8 Jul 2010, 4:01pm

I went to Myanmar/Burma. There is some small amount of English in use there, but the most common foreign language there is Chinese, of which I have no knowledge. So I bought a phrase book. I learned some phrases, etc. But, being a tonal language like Chinese, such is the difficulty of pronouncing Burmese that the locals could not understand my rendering of these phrases.

I then had the good idea of opening the phrasebook to the phrase I wanted to use, and pointing to the phrase. I was able to carry on some limited, but satisfactory conversations in this manner. Fortunately literacy is high in the country.

Tako
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby Tako » 8 Jul 2010, 4:32pm

iviehoff wrote:I went to Myanmar/Burma. There is some small amount of English in use there, but the most common foreign language there is Chinese, of which I have no knowledge. So I bought a phrase book. I learned some phrases, etc. But, being a tonal language like Chinese, such is the difficulty of pronouncing Burmese that the locals could not understand my rendering of these phrases.

I then had the good idea of opening the phrasebook to the phrase I wanted to use, and pointing to the phrase. I was able to carry on some limited, but satisfactory conversations in this manner. Fortunately literacy is high in the country.



Touring where the language isn't Latin-based, having names of places, foods jotted down on a piece of paper is a good fix. But agree, learn a few common courtesy phrases - which you'll have to learn anyway if you want to progress to conversational standard - and you'll be alright!*

* unless you're in Paris where they'll eye you up-n-down and dismiss you no matter how good your French is!

byegad
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby byegad » 8 Jul 2010, 5:36pm

I used a Berlitz phrase book in Holland ten years ago and managed OK. It helped that I'm a native English speaker and had studied German for two years before being kicked out of the class for being plain bad at it! That was 46 years ago, but it gave me the confidence to repeat the experience in Germany again with Berlitz with more success. I speak bad French well enough to hold a conversation so France and the French speaking part of Belgium holds no fears, in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium and Holland I can order food and do simple shopping with the phrase book in hand.
The usual rule I apply is to start the conversation in the local language and rely on good will and common sense to get me through. I've found the French very pleased to help once you show willing. They will often correct my French or try their English if i go wrong. Starting the conversation in English as a friend always insists on doing is plain rude and he gets a lot less cooperation than me.
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aquilegia
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby aquilegia » 8 Jul 2010, 7:30pm

Before I went to Thailand, I bought a phrase book and listened to Thai tapes from a library, mainly to become familiar with the tones. I didn't need to use the phrase book too often, but it was very helpful each time I did. People would smile at my mangled Thai but they did understand me and helped me. In Laos, I used a phrase book mainly for numbers and food, and it was helpful there, too.

I speak a few foreign languages including French and was recently touring in France. I was appalled at how many native English speakers (from various countries) simply launched into English without even asking. In recent years, however, the French have become much more accepting of the fact that English is without question the world language. Newer or remodeled museums now tend to be bilingual along with tourist information, as well.

In Flanders, I recall taking a local bus to visit a friend. He told me to ask the bus driver to let me know when we arrived at a certain landmark. When I boarded the bus, I first asked the driver if he spoke English. His response: "of course".

French speakers will often correct you. Spanish speakers almost never do, and I make a lot more mistakes in Spanish than French.

Dudley Manlove
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby Dudley Manlove » 9 Jul 2010, 8:05am

I wouldn't worry about it too much, especially in those countries where the english is good. Just try to pick up the common curtisies, hello, goodbye, thanks, when entering shops etc.

Just about to head off to Germany for 2 weeks, got a Rosetta Stone course off ebay, thought if I spend the money...ofc all best intentions haven't learnt, oh well, not like was gonna be having any conversations in German beyond 'the brown dog is under the table' anyhow.

Dudley Manlove
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby Dudley Manlove » 9 Jul 2010, 8:11am

aquilegia wrote:I speak a few foreign languages including French and was recently touring in France. I was appalled at how many native English speakers (from various countries) simply launched into English without even asking. In recent years, however, the French have become much more accepting of the fact that English is without question the world language.

In Flanders, I recall taking a local bus to visit a friend. He told me to ask the bus driver to let me know when we arrived at a certain landmark. When I boarded the bus, I first asked the driver if he spoke English. His response: "of course".


In France I think I would ask. I lived in Flanders a short while, studying and working full time, so little time to learn the language. I gave up asking if I could speak English after getting the sarcastic reply "I don't know, can you?", they all could speak it anyway and very good was getting silly even asking.

Barrenfluffit
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Re: Touring where you don't speak the language

Postby Barrenfluffit » 9 Jul 2010, 4:36pm

I agree that the non latin alphabets are more challenging. Even signs and maps require an element of faith. A little knowledge helps; I understand that bulgarian names have the same number of letters to latin ones. Its sometimes possible to figure out from the patterns of symbols which one is which ( as long as you know the context ). in fact most interactions have a context so the precise meaning can be guessed at. Zimmer Frei is quite useful to know...

These challenges are an intrinsic part of touring.