Do You Speak a Foreign Language?

Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:05 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 78,322
Do You Speak a Foreign Language?

Just curious how many Fodor Friends speak a language besides English - specifically European ones.

A common concern of novice Americans, typically only speaking American, going to Europe is the dread language barrier. Have you ever found the language barrier to be a real problem?

Thanks

I- I speak rudimentary French - can read rather well and can speak enough to make my wishes know pretty much - cannot discuss philosophy, etc. however. Only other language

And i have nearly never found not speaking the local language in Europe a problem at all. Seems as though there is always, for tourist problems and questions at least, some European who speaks enough English to communicate. Thank God English is the second language of the world!

What languages do you speak other than English?

Have you ever had any real problems not speaking the local language.

Thank you
PalenQ is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:18 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 240
I speak Italian (after 40+ years here its obvious), college French and a bit of Russian has remained from 4 years living in Moscow.
For beginners just remember the basic words and phrases of greetings, thanks, asking directions . Along with a big smile and some hand and head movements you should be able to get through a day or two in a non-English speaking country.
vetralla is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:24 AM
  #3  
yk
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 24,324
I don't speak any European languages, English only.

Have been to France, Germany (4 times), Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg - never had any problems not knowing French or German or Italian or Spanish or Dutch.

The only issue I've had was when I visited Moscow by myself in early 1990s. I had some trouble figuring out which platform I needed at a subway station. An older woman stopped to help, but she didn't speak any English. Eventually she grabbed a young man who was able to help me out.
yk is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:24 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 19,000
<i>Along with a big smile and some hand and head movements...</i>

Unless you're trying to mime &quot;toilets&quot;...
Robespierre is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:25 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 638
Speak only English but we have taken several courses of German, still not much better off as far as conversation but do get by pretty easily now. We lived in northern Germany in the early 90's on a job assignment but find that most of the younger people speak English and were usually quite willing to try out their English on us, probably much preferred it to our attempting the German language. We travel to Germany at least yearly and sad to say our command of the German language has not gotten much better. I also go to Paris 1-2 times a year and do not speak French but do know the pleasantries and have found the French very accommodating and helpful. We love to travel and don't find language to be a barrier, it can be frustrating, but not a real problem. I would never let my lack of another language stop me from travel.
Susan
Suspaul is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:25 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,719
I have a feeling I may have answered a similar thread in the past so, at the risk of repeating myself, my languages are:

*French - near bilingual as this is the language I speak at home with my husband and in everyday life in Brussels
*Spanish - fluent as I use it regularly in my professional life and studied it at university
*Italian - decent level, studied at evening classes and high school
*Romanian - decent level, studied for three years for professional reasons
*Portuguese - can understand a bit and speak a bit, did a three week intensive course

Next language I'd like to learn (after Portuguese) would either be Greek or Dutch.

As for whether I've found the language barrier to be a problem, I'd say definitely, on a personal level: I tend to travel most often to countries where I can understand the language, so when I find myself in places where I don't speak a word of it, I do feel rather lost and vulnerable. I hate having to resort to English as it feels like a cop-out!
hanl is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:29 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 78,322
Speaking of russia - was there long ago and yes few English speakers then and the fact that they used the Cryllic alphabet complicated using maps as well - i had to translate letter by letter the street signs to the English map i had. Same for Greece though there there are many English speakers.

I think the bigger the country the less likely locals are to speak any foreign language - smaller the country, out of necessity they do.

Even Switzerland i've noticed that it seems the French, German and Italian speaking areas do not speak each others languages and even use English IME to communicate with each other.
PalenQ is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:33 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 6,629
Gadgetman (DH) says (with a sigh) that I speak wonderful &quot;retail French&quot;. It's is adequate for most day to day needs although it was sorely tested in southwest France with a physician who did not speak English. It's a wonder what gestures can accomplish.

I often get the back-handed compliment that my spoken French is &quot;very good for an American.&quot; I think I have the cadence down well and fairly good pronunciation.

However, I realized how inadequate my French is when looking for houses--must have added 50+ new words to my vocabulary. For the actual purchase, we are using a notaire who is bi-lingual.

No other languages--10 or so phrases in Spanish and German.
Cathinjoetown is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:37 AM
  #9  
yk
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 24,324
On my visit to Moscow in the early 1990s, the most difficult thing was trying to match the Cyrillic station names on my map with the subway station maps. My dad gave me his 1970s-era Moscow map, so of course the names of the subway stations have changed since. Even the station names are different from the maps inside the subway cars and the maps posted at the station. My only method was to count the number of stations to make sure I got off at the right one.
yk is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:38 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 6,047
Strange that so many Americans appear to have problems learning French or German, since English is a mixture of German and French dialects. Grammatical structures are similar, and even many words are identical. Learning German should be very easy for an American - much easier than learning Finnish, Turkish or Mandarin.

The main trouble appears with pronunciation of other languages. The British and Irish are much better in learning other languages - hence, it appears to be an American thing.
traveller1959 is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:43 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 53,095
Hi pal,

I learn a smattering of whatever they speak in wherever we are going [with the exception of czech - my brain just wasn't wired for it] and just go for it, totally ignoring the fact that their english is almost invariably better than my greek/ hungarian/ spanish etc.

if I really need to hav e aproper conversaiton with someone, we can usually find a common language, - french, german [or english], all of which I'm not bad at. [benefits of an english grammar school education].

I'm now learning italian properly as i found being there without being able to comunicate too frustrating. it's not the language barrier so much, as I want to understand more about the art and culture which I can't do without understanding the language.

in prague, budapest, etc. etc. I scratch around and use sign language like everyone else!

and smile a lot - that helps.

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:44 AM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 78,322
The British and Irish are much better in learning other languages - hence, it appears to be an American thing&gt;

my theory - the bigger the country the less need or want to speak other languages - i do not think it is harder for Americans to learn it - they just do not have the motivation as Brits may, lying just a Chunnel ride from the Continent and its Babel of languages.
PalenQ is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:50 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 12,970
Well,I've studied 9 languages over the course of my schooling through grad school. Language ability varies depending on the language. Also since I've been out of grad school for 30 years, some languages are now hazy in my mind. Smiles. I'd need a good 6-8 month, intensive course to get some of them back up to par.
However during the time that they were stronger, mostly during the 70s and 80s, it helped a lot to know them. I remember being on a train once and we were 4 different languages in the same train compartment and I could converse in all four. We had a great time in that compartment.
As for you traveling in 2008, there's a big difference in how much English people, in other countries speak now, as compared to back in the &quot;Old&quot; days. Smiles. So, you should get by quite well. However try to learn some phrases in the local language. Have a great trip. Happy Travels!
Guenmai is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:58 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 4,433
traveller1959 wrote: &quot;The British and Irish are much better in learning other languages&quot;

I suggest that is something of an overstatement. Perhaps a little better. The language skills of continental Europeans are generally far more impressive.

Besides English, I have a high level of fluency in Gaelic (not very useful in continental Europe other than for allowing Herself and me to maintain privacy) and a useful amount of French. I have some words and phrases in Italian, Spanish, and German, but cannot converse in any of those languages. But I have never felt that a lack of command of other languages was a problem. With luck and goodwill, anything seems possible.
Padraig is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 09:59 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 326
I can get around with my mediocre French (was able to communicate with police when we were robed this year in France) - order food, make a reservation, ask for directions ect. BUT not to have a meaningful conversation (unfortunately).

Since I was born and raised in Russia, I still think of it as my first language.

Never spoke a word of English till I moved to USA (I had to learn very quickly in a short period of time).

To answer the question regarding needing the language when you travel: You do need to know a few basic words and a smile on your face! These days, in many countries English is a mandatory language in school. Good for us!
Matroskin is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 10:04 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 401
I speak French at home, but it is French Canadian, so pretty different than Parisian French!
Ruby99 is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 10:07 AM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 78,322
A problem i've seen with Americans at least when they ask something of a local in English is that they talk too fast

I try to talk really slow and annunciate words well - i do this because i think many Europeans are like me in French

If a French speaker slows down and annunciates clearly i can usually understand them - and keep the words simple - but if they rattle off something then it's Greek to me

Do not assume everyone speaks English fluently but do assume that they may well understand English somewhat if made simple and slow.

Works for me in Scotland as well.
PalenQ is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 10:11 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,404
I speak Canadian fluently.
Bird is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 10:11 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 4,433
Ruby99 wrote: &quot;I speak French at home, but it is French Canadian, so pretty different than Parisian French!&quot;

So much so that Canadian-French films are subtitled in France. And you are sometimes known as &quot;chiens-chauds&quot;.
Padraig is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2008, 10:15 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,225
I am extremely confident with my Spanish, conversant in Italian and know enough French to ask and answer questions when traveling. Each time I've been in the countries where those languages I've spoken, I needed it for one reason or another. I'm not sure how I would have gotten by otherwise without knowing it.

That said, in Czech Republic, Austria and Germany, where I do not speak the language, I never had a problem either with just using my English.
amyb is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Do Not Sell My Personal Information

FODOR'S VIDEO