I’m a big believer in learning the language of a place you are visiting. While this is not usually realistic, I think people should at least make the effort to learn a few key phrases, even if it is just ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Politeness goes a long way 🙂
Something I hear far too often in the UK is that people feel visitors should be able to speak some English when coming to the UK, but I don’t feel this is always reciprocated with Brits visiting abroad. This is mainly due to the fact that so many people speak English that it is actually sometimes easier to speak in English than attempt to string together a few words in a foreign language and end up with a totally random outcome.
One such example of this was a recent visit to Berlin with my boyfriend. I learnt German at school and continued it through to GCSE, mostly because I love languages. I haven’t had much chance to use German at home, other than the odd word to my parents, both of whom have a grasp of the language. So throughout our entire trip, my boyfriend kept pestering me to speak German, fully aware that I think we should make an effort in foreign countries.
The trouble is, while I can read and get an understanding of written text, I can only understand speech when someone is talking slowly and clearly. And I always worry they’ll reply to me and I’ll have no idea what they’ve said. Not ideal in a busy shop. So on our last day, I finally plucked up the courage to ask for our lunch in German. I was confident…I was sure I’d understand any questions they’d ask or anything they said (like the price) and so I went for it.
‘Zwei Käsebrötchen bitte‘
I was met with a confused look. Oh no, I thought, I’ve asked for something dodgy like a fat donkey. The lady walked off, and returned with a pretzel.
She was then met with a confused look. I’d gone for something basic, something I was pretty sure of, and I’d got a pretzel. I don’t even know the German word for pretzel. I pondered whether to ask again in German, or ask in English and pray she spoke English. I went for the latter seeing as how the former hadn’t worked out so well.
Turns out she wasn’t German, and didn’t understand German. Great. The one time I plucked up enough courage to speak the local language and I’d found someone who wasn’t German.
Despite this unfortunate attempt, I still make an effort to speak the local language, and to teach my boyfriend as much as I can. Thus, we are the ones on the train that are continually counting to 10 or naming body parts. I apologise, but it’s the only way he’ll learn. And he will learn.