Languages while travelling around europe
Replies: 26 - Last Post: Dec 5, 2012 9:14 AM Last Post By: ckoureas
Dec 4, 2012 2:55 AM
Languages while travelling around europeI'm spending the next year or so travelling around europe and it will be my first time travelling by myself. Are there some countries in Europe that I need to learn the local language to travel around? For example friends that went to croatia said it was really difficult not speaking croatian and this may be a bit of a stereotype but people often say that in France and Spain people are very reluctant to speak english. Would I be ok just learning a few phrases before I get to a new country?
I only speak english and very basic spanish. I'm planning to learn some german before I go as I will be spending at least 2 months in Berlin.
Dec 4, 2012 3:06 AM
1The fun of traveling is learning languages, but to be honest I doubt there is anywhere that you will not find someone who speaks English. Certainly having visited Croatia a few times I have had no problem with not speaking the language (although my Italian helps). I find that the French would rather speak to you in English than get by understanding poor French, and the Spanish if they can speak English are often very happy to practice. The biggest thing I find is where you do not speak the language is learning a few simple words, especially "can you speak English" i hate it when i see people walking into to places and just assuming that everyone speaks the language.
Dec 4, 2012 3:27 AM
2Like richiavo, I find it very annoying when people go abroad and assume everyone should speak English or when they complain that people in country X or Y "refuse to speak English". Apparently these people aren't able to understand that learning a foreign language involves a considerable effort as well as sufficient practice and/or exposure to that language. There are lots of people in Europe who never learnt much English in school and even if they did, never hear it (because foreign tv programmes are dubbed in the local language) or speak it (because they never meet a foreign person).
It's apparently also very hard to understand for some English speakers that walking into a store in France and placing an order in English is just as polite as a French person walking into a store in the US/UK/Australia/NZ and placing an order in French. More often than not, people whining about those French who "refuse" to speak English, have zero French skills themselves and can't even be bothered to precede a conversation with a basic greeting in French.
Anyway, that's just a general rant, it's good to see you are being considerate about this matter and are trying to learn a language. My advice would be to learn a few basic phrases (greetings, asking for directions etc) in every local language; even then, don't be disappointed when the other person replies in fluent English. Learn a bit more than the basics for Germany (since you're going to spend a longer period in that country; many Germans speak English very well, by the way), Spain, Italy and France, as English is not that widely spoken by people not working in the tourist industry.
In my experience, Scandinavians often react surprised when asked if they can speak English - I even met one or two who were almost offended by the suggestion they might not. Apparently the Dutch and Dutch-speaking Belgians do the same.
Dec 4, 2012 3:32 AM
3If you stay in contact with the service industry just about anywhere in Europe, you'll discover that basic level English is practically the working language. Even when not, the service industry environment (accom, restaurants, transport) makes it almost self-evident what the communication issues are. Pointing, use of paper and pen (e.g., for prices) go a long way in resolving language barriers.
Memorizing a few token phrases is not especially practical or helpful .. for two reasons, pronunciation on your part, and the matter of being able to understand any answers given in the foreign language. For this reason any sort of "conversation" is not likely to last more than a sentence or two. It's more efficient to get the job done in any way you can.
Endearing yourself to the locals and setting yourself apart from the feelingless mass of tourists by learning how to say "hello, how are you" and other such trite statements is something of a traveller's myth. When business practicality is an issue -- which is the main language issue for you -- then even the locals want to get business done, not struggle with some foreigner trying to get a language lesson. With the matter of politeness, richiavo's last comment is probably the more relevant. Try to establish the possible language barrier first, don't assume anyone can speak yours. That way, both parties can try to find compromises, meet halfway.
All that said, learning a language for travel purposes is (in my experience) quite different from simply learning a language. Forget about conversation. I'd even forget about grammer and any verb tense other than present. Think about contexts, words need to rent rooms, buy tickets, order meals, asking directions. It might surprise you how far you can get with a functional vocabulary of 50-60 words. Not "How do I get to the museum from here?" but "Where .. museum?" Nouns, prepositions and a few verbs define the context. The context fills in all the other language gaps.
Edited by: BthDth
And don't forget: gestures are not universal but are also culture-specific. A nod of the head may not mean what you think it means.
Dec 4, 2012 3:40 AM
4Aribo after spending a few years in Norway and Finland, in Norway more so than Finland I was often looked like an idiot when asking if they speak English, but i still found more polite to ask.
Dec 4, 2012 3:55 AM
5I'd like to add to the excellent advice above that, speaking just a few phrases in the local language can by a large degree influence the way the locals react to you, and I mean in a positive way. My first time in France: very little French, but enough to to be received well by the locals. I told my parents about just saying "Bonjour" (good day) and "Merci. Au revoir" (Thanks. Goodbye) and that once worked wonders in a small boutique in Paris.
My point is that the little effort undertaken in learning a few phrases will really enhance the enjoyment of your trip.
Dec 4, 2012 4:08 AM
6My (little) experience in Croatia was that people spoke quite good English -- at least anyone I had anything to do with -- renting a room, buying food or a bus ticket.
As the others say, most people you come into contact with have dealings with tourists and will have basic or better English skills. But, it is indeed polite to learn to say hello, goodbye, please and thankyou in the local language. And don't assume that speaking louder will make you easier to understand.
Dec 4, 2012 4:09 AM
Dec 4, 2012 4:37 AM
Dec 4, 2012 6:17 AM
Dec 4, 2012 6:47 AM
Welcome to TT!
people often say that in France and Spain people are very reluctant to speak english.
Did that people verify if those people that they claim to be reluctant to speak English know English and could be able to speak it?
It's not the same to be reluctant to speak a language than to be unable to speak it.
I'm spending the next year or so travelling around europe
May I ask what passport do you hold (i.e.: from what country)?
Are you aware of the entry requirements into the Schengen Area for people of your nationality?
Dec 4, 2012 6:51 AM
Like some others, I'm hugely annoyed by this assumption by certain (monolingual) Anglophones that it's some kind of god-given right that everybody speaks English. There are a few billion people out there who don;t speak English and it's not because they're 'reluctant'- it's because they never had the need or the inclination to learn it. Much like you are reluctant to speak Chinese (and let's face it, there are many more Chinese than English native speakers).
No matter what language you speak, in many European countries, and France in particular, it's seen as incredibly rude to barge into a shop and start demanding things. You are supposed to acknowledge the owner/sales person, and greet them. Once you have done this, you can ask your question. It's not just tourists who are treated this way- this is hammered into kids from a very early age.
So the many Anglophones who approach a Parisian and say "hey, where's the Louv' " should not be surprised that they get a rude response. Because they were rude first.
Dec 4, 2012 7:07 AM
12MTL i actually find the worst people for doing this are those that are neither English speaking or speak the language of the country they are in and just use English. I have even seen the French ordering drinks in Italy automatically speaking English without even enquiring.
Dec 4, 2012 7:15 AM
13Richard, There are very handy - small - multilingual dictionaries and other - digital - translators.
But all in one it's the effort and attitude that counts.
For Croatia, apart from English, German will very often do.
With English a bit Spanish and planning to learn some German, you will be very well equipped.
And last but not least, your basic (body) language - smiling - is the ultimate weapon.
Good luck and have fun.
Dec 4, 2012 7:50 AM
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