Foreign Languages--How Much do I have to Know?
One of the most frequent questions asked in travel circles is: Do they speak English there? The general answer is, "Why, yes, they probably do." (In fact, a recent study shows that 41% of people in the European Union believe English to be the language in which they are the most fluent) If not, the crafty traveler to Europe can resort to a combination of slow--and for some odd reason loud --spoken English peppered with hand signals. In fact, I'd venture a guess that millions of travelers have traveled to Europe without knowing much more than a smidgeon of a "foreign" language.
But it's odd that no one asks, "How much French will keep Parisians happy with my attempts at the language?" I mean, lazy American students are always asking, "Will that be on the test?" as if to dismiss the whole learning experience--and Parisians are really the biggest test of your ability to speak French. Simple French, including saying "thank you" and "good evening" at the appropriate times, will be on the test, trust me on this. Learn them and your trip will be much more pleasant.
I'd throw in some food words that correspond to your favorite foods, and you'll probably want to know the word for toilet and a few directional words to allow you to get to it. Maybe then the natives will respect you, if only for trying to speak their language.
And you'll probably have a deeper experience if you learn a little of the languages of the countries you'll be traveling in--especially in restaurants and bars.
Learning Enough of a LanguageFor most of the common European Languages, the About Network has a plethora of language resources at your mouse command. These are basic, simple words that kids learn. If you're just getting started at learning a language, you won't be able to really speak on an adult level for quite some time, but people will respect you for trying. When you get to where you think you're really good at it, you'll hate it when they switch to English to talk to you. Really.
And one more thing: don't be afraid to make mistakes. I know, I'm a bit timid when it comes to just throwing caution to the wind and blurting out a phrase I'm not sure of--but I have a friend who isn't. And you wouldn't believe the interesting situations you get into when mistakes are made.
One of my favorite language stories
I was in a Sardinian restaurant with a woman who spoke pretty good Italian and didn't like seafood. She spotted a primo piatto (first plate or course) of avocado stuffed with a seafood salad. She wanted just the avocato, so she asked, "Posso avere l'avvocato sensa niente?" She wanted the avocado without anything. Naked, as it were.
And the waiter, quick on the draw, inquired if she might desire a naked doctor for a main course--and she did, but that's another story.
French Language for the TravelerLaura K Lawless has put together some fine language resources.
Basic French Vocabulary
Phrases that'll get you into the basics of the language, with wav files for pronunciation.
French Travel Vocabulary Phrases you might need on your trip, arranged by situation.
French Gestures Yeah, the French use their hands too. Enough that there's three pages of gestures.
Italian Language for the Traveler
Michael San Fillipo at the helm here.
Italian For Beginners
Everything from grammar lessons to Study Guides and Verbs, the hardest to deal with in any language.
Italian Language Audio Phrasebook Phrases you might need on your trip, arranged by situation. If you need help at the breakfast table, click it and you'll get phrases you need when you belly up to the Italian breakfast bar.
Italian Hand Gestures index Yup, they use their hands a lot in Italy. It's all part of communication, so ou might want to check them out.
Survival Phrases Just the essential words for travelers.
German Language for TravelersHyde Flippo has quite a grasp of German and shares:
German for Beginners
Greetings, courtesy, sounds, and the German alphabet.
German for Travelers: The Basics Words, phrases, and pronunciation, as well as some advice on using the language in Germany.
German Menu and Dining Guide Believe me, you'll need this if you want to eat at a real German restaurant that doesn't have an English menu.
Spanish Language for TravelersGerald Erichsen has assembled these Spanish language resources:
What you need to know to get that hotel or talk to the nice lady at the b&b.
Dining Mostly Central and South American Spanish, but you'll find some basic words here.
Spanish for Beginners Resources for the beginning learner in the Spanish language.
deTraci Regula shows you: how to speak tourist Greek.
Want to learn a language in its country of origin? It's a blast. Read on and I'll tell you what it's like going to language school in Italy. Nah, it's not as bad as high school, you'll have fun.