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Experience Survey: Where you did/did not need to know the language

Experience Survey: Where you did/did not need to know the language

Nov 4th, 2000, 05:18 PM
  #21  
Patrick
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Probably the worst problem I had with language in all my travels in Europe was in Brienz, Switzerland. We had to do a quick train switch and there were two platforms, a train at each, both unmarked and it was only a minute until our train was to leave. I rushed into the station, went to the window, and tried to ask which platform for the train to Interlaken. All I knew was the word "gleis" for platform. I kept repeating "vitch gleis --Interlaken?" (Well, it sounded German to me!" I felt frustrated that the guy at the window just kept shaking his head. Finally he said in perfect English, "I know what you're trying to ask, I just don't know which platform." It seems we was an Indiana University student working there for the summer. The moral of this story -- I have never found anywhere in Europe that I really needed to know the language --including a fun evening in a restaurant in Konya, Turkey where not one person spoke a single word of English. I guess I'm a championship charades player and that sometimes helps, but a smile and a faint effort at the local language is all your really need. Of course a basic knowledge of the language is always nice, but it is simply not necessary these days.
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 07:16 PM
  #22  
citizen
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In Eur. airports I try to catch the announcements on the PA. I struggle to hear. Because the announcers enunciate clearly, if it's a language I know somewhat, I get much of it. Then I listen for the English. Because they speak clearly, I get most of it in spite of the noise and static. Then some hours later I arrive in the States. The announcements are in my native tongue (I think?), but I can't understand them because the announcers have such slurred, sustandard, sloppy speech. And I'm not talking about the ones with foreign accents. I look around at the faces of the other travelers and wonder what foreign visitors must think.
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 10:41 PM
  #23  
clairobscur
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My own (foreign) language being french, the country where I had the less problem (except for Morocco, but we are talking about european countries) has been Portugal. Everybody answered in french when I was trying to speak "tourist" portuguese (except for the Algarve where they replied in english). Only in two instances someone seemed to speak only Portuguese (and for some reason the only portuguese sentence I still remember is the question I was asking the second time : "Where's the swiming pool?")

The country I had the greatest difficulties was the former Yugoslavia. Nobody spoke english, let alone french. German would have proven useful, in this case. I couldn't manage to be understood when I was trying to speak serbian, either. And as several languages are spoken there, once I finally found out what was the word for "arrival", for instance, it changed at the following train station.

The second worst is England. I had really hard times trying to be understood (and, sorry, but I would add that very few people make the slightest effort to try to understand mangled english)and even if I did, I was unable to understand the answer, anyway.
 
Nov 5th, 2000, 04:46 AM
  #24  
the turnip
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We have been in 8 different countries in Europe and NOWHERE was it essential to know the language.

However everywhere we went we made an effort to at least learn the very basics of their language. You know, "please", "thank-you", "excuse me", "i'm sorry", etc. We have found that at least making a sincere attempt to speak a person's language goes a long long way in getting them to be helpful and friendly in communicating. (Except in Paris where they were rude no matter what you spoke - but life goes on.)
 
Nov 5th, 2000, 05:26 AM
  #25  
xxx
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Just came back from Paris. Not a single person was rude. In fact in my last 3 trips to France, I can remember only one rude person, and that may be because it was rather obvious that I was considering entering some contemp art museum in Arles ONLY so I could use the toilet which is a little tacky, but when you have to go-- As to whether the local language is essential, it depends where you go within a country. If you go far from major tourist sites, where there are no hotels, only farms or private houses that take guests, and no restaurants, only places to buy food, and the bus schedules are not posted, or are posted in a different alphabet, or your car has mechanical problems, and no one in the area has had any reason to learn English, or you get some ailment for which you have not toted along an appropriate rememdy,I really think it would help to know at least a little of the local language!
 
Nov 5th, 2000, 07:47 AM
  #26  
sandi
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Returned last night from Italy, the only time that basic phrases weren't enough was when there were specific questions about the train (reservation/seat assignments etc) and a time when we went into the farmacia to get some medicine for specific symptoms. Other than that, we either knew enough Italian or they enough English..
 
Nov 5th, 2000, 03:33 PM
  #27  
xxx
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What languages) would you need to get along WELL and have conversations with people on the island of Karpathos in Greece? Is English widely spoken?French? Other?
 
Nov 5th, 2000, 07:21 PM
  #28  
observer
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At a high lookout point in San Gimignano I was lucky that I did not need to ask anyone a question. The ONLY language I heard spoken there was German!
 
Nov 6th, 2000, 04:49 AM
  #29  
aaa
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Many moons ago, someone I went to school with got hopelessly lost in Northern Greece. Eventually, a bus happened by. He got on, and found that he couldn't understand a word the bus driver said. However, the benefits of a Classical education came to the fore, and he asked, in his finest Ancient Greek, "whither does this chariot go?" He was met with instant and uproarious laughter from the whole assembled company; however, once the bus driver had dried his eyes, he gave him a straight single word answer he could understand, took the fare, and all was well.
 
Nov 6th, 2000, 09:12 AM
  #30  
DougD
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We just came back from 2 weeks in Austria and Italy. We were amazed at how many Austrians understood English, especially in the cities. Our biggest language problem was in a hotel in a small Italian city - the desk clerk knew Italian, German, and French, but not a word of English.
 
Nov 6th, 2000, 10:03 AM
  #31  
tcc
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that's hilarious aaa!!
 
Nov 6th, 2000, 02:01 PM
  #32  
giggles
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The whither-goeth-this-chariot anecdote kept popping back into my mind and kept me chuckling through an otherwise rather boring day. Let's have more...!
 
Nov 6th, 2000, 08:43 PM
  #33  
topsy
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top!
 
Nov 6th, 2000, 10:44 PM
  #34  
annika
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Poland is a pretty difficult place - I speak six languages but obviously none of them are any good there. Don't get me wrong, I love Poland though. I just wish people (especially in customer service, of all places!) weren't so *hostile* towards foreigners in some places and would even try to get things sorted out. Does anyone else have similar experiences in Poland??
 
Nov 7th, 2000, 08:58 AM
  #35  
xxx
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Can we get by in the Basque country in Spain speaking French (in addition to English), but not spanish, Basque, or Catalan?
 
Nov 7th, 2000, 09:11 AM
  #36  
charlotte
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I find it helpful in any country I've ever visited to know at least a little bit of the local language - the more the better. However, I don't think that it is ESSENTIAL anywhere.

I think I would agree with several others that the farther off the main tourist path you get, the less useful English becomes. The country that I've visited where I felt that a 100 word vocabulary was the most useful was Russia - and even at that, the most useful part was being comfortable with the Cyrillic alphabet.
In general when visiting places where I don't speak the language, I try to slow down - use fewer words (of whatever language) - be patient - and always carry a small notepad.
 
Nov 7th, 2000, 11:40 AM
  #37  
Tony Hughes
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To puzzled - perhaps you were in an area of Switzerland where the native toungue is Romansch, a sort of modern latin.

Maybe they were foreigners, though.
 
Nov 7th, 2000, 04:40 PM
  #38  
xxx
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As an English speaker who had studied only French and Italian, I was not comfortable speaking Spanish, but I tried a little. I got into a "conversation" with a friendly person in Seville and tried to explain in Spanish how many "years" ago I had done something. But I forgot about the tilda over the "n" which makes it an entirely different letter with an entirely different sound. So you can imagine how I mispronounced the Spanish word for "year" and how silly it sounded to talk about how many "asses" ago I'd done this or that. And the nice man didn't even laugh at me.
 
Nov 8th, 2000, 11:56 AM
  #39  
Reader
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More...?
 
Nov 10th, 2000, 07:45 PM
  #40  
xxx
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In the city of Lucca (in Tuscany) I had a hard time finding maps and brochures about the sights that I could read. since I'm american, I'd look first for English. No luck. Since I was in Italy, and I could read Italian, I'd next try Italian. Surprisingly, the Italian versions were usually not available. French, too, was nowhere. almost all of the maps and printed info for tourists were written in German, which I could not read at all!
 

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