Learning the Language

Jan 14th, 2007, 07:23 AM
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Learning the Language

A bit over 30 years ago, I received orders assigning me to the hospital at Landstuhl, Germany. I ran right out and bought a map of "Europa" and there smack dabbed in the middle of the continent was a country that I did not know, Deutschland.

My ignorance overwhelmed me.

Once settled in the country, I signed up for language classes. It was not much of a handicap to be ignorant of foreign languages in Flint, MI, but I wanted to be able to order food and drink in this strange place.

My interest in the language has once again come alive as I have reached the point in my life when I can afford to travel. I went through my old Deutsch textbooks; and, Wörterbuch in hand, I am beginning to read Grimm's Fairy Tales, short stories and even a Tony Hillerman book translated into Deutsch.

The language seems an engaging part of the journey in visiting another country. LarryinColorado suggested that reading DB web pages might be a good reason to learn the language (agreed).

Learning the language is not really required to travel in Europe; but, how many others are making it part of their journey?

Regards, Gary

Gary_Mc is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 07:31 AM
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Starting my Spanish lessons on Tuesday in prep. for the trip to Spain in the fall.!

Jan 14th, 2007, 07:52 AM
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Language is absolutely one of the fun parts of traveling. I speak French somewhat, so I enjoy France more than other places, and I am constantly working on learning more by listening to French singers, French radio stations, and reading French magazines and web sites.

In order to enhance my trips to Italy, I spent months listening to Italian learning materials and reading Italian magazines, but since I didn't keep it after the trips, I'm afraid I haven't retained that much.

To prepare for last summer's trip through Spain and Portugal, I simply reviewed phrases and pronunciation in Spanish, Catalan, and Portuguese. Not sure I was too successful in keeping them all straight, as I encountered some puzzled looks, but it was fun trying.
Nikki is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 07:53 AM
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AGree. WE visited Paris last year and I forced myself to learn a few phrases and words from a 30 CD "language in 7 day" set. I did get the occasional "what planet are you from?" look from some Pariseans but it certainly came in handy many times. Especially, I learned how to say "Excuse me, can you help me in English?" in French. This demonstrates to the European that you are not the prototypical American tourist who makes no effort to learn anything but where the Paris McDonald's are, and demonstrates that you have the courtesy to ask nicely instead of just being an inconvienence. With my few phrases, I found the oft-maligned French people to be surprisingly polite ( with a few exceptions, so what?) Even just a botched attempt at speaking a few words is seen as a positive thing by most Europeans - absolutely, try to learn the language.
docdan is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 09:27 AM
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The tips I wrote up for a thread on how to get the most out of your French language holiday might be of interest to you: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...1&tid=34869116
Kate_W is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 09:32 AM
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i just finished my first semester of italian and am beginning the second next week....we leave for italy on 6/25
randola is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 10:35 AM
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Language is an absolutely essential part of my visit to any country. In fact, it's language that sparked my interest in travel, not the other way around. I was lucky enough to go to schools that taught Latin, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese even at the elementary level, so by the time I went to college I had the equivalent of about 25 years of language study under my belt. I kept up my study of languages through college and beyond, and though I have been to countries where my knowledge of the native language is pitifully minimal, I almost always speak some language that a good number of the locals speak (went to Turkey, for example, and got by speaking German a lot of the time; have been to North Africa a few times and spoke French because my Arabic is pretty pathetic even after a couple of years' study).

I can think of no single other skill that opens windows into foreign worlds like understanding/speaking the language.
StCirq is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 10:52 AM
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I probably should, but I never bother to learn the language. With a demanding job and young kids, we're just happy to find the money and time to travel.

We find that, with our limited prep time, we're better offer really learning about the geography of the land we're going to, the transit systems, and other essential "must knows". Sometime when we have more prep time for our trips, I'd love to incorporate some basic language into it.
HonestAbe is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 10:56 AM
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I am not naturally gifted, but enjoy studying. I often take an 8 week class in either Spanish or French prior to traveling, depending on my destination. I never expect to be fluent, but my comprehension and meager vocabulary grows steadily over the years.
suze is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 11:09 AM
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I'm not gifted either. My native language is German, I speak French rather o.k. and understand a little English. The words are all the same. In Italy I'm able to understand complete sentences without ever having learned a single word of italian. Raally strange! I translated Italian into French for a Portugese lady (she spoke french) on a train. They weren't able to communicate between each other and actually didn't notice how similar their languages are. It's just a little training I belive! French, Portugese, Spanish and Italian are the same language
logos999 is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 11:35 AM
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I think learning at least some of the language is a great idea. But - it's not really necessary - and I would hate to discourage people by making them think they need to know something besides English to enjoy europe.

As a secondary point - I just don;t have the time to learn so many different languages. Took French and Spanish in school and can bumble along in those (and understand a little Italian and Portugese). And - as any native English speaker - can intuit some of the basics of other Germanic languages. And remember about 3/4 sentences of what my father taught me (his grandparents had been immigrants from Germany).

But when it comes to learning slavic languages (so much harder for an english-speaker) as well - never mind the outliers like Hungarian and Finnish - I stick to the basic 10 or so tourist sentences - or I'd go mad.
nytraveler is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 12:03 PM
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I like to learn languages. I think if nytraveler can remember 10 sentences in slavic, that is outstanding! Czech is very difficult. Czechs are very nice and act impressed if you try to say anything in Czech, even though it's likely you may be butchering the language. I was a French major, and when in Paris, I found that it was a bit daunting to speak French. Sometimes they will look at you like you're an idiot, and then I get so embarrassed and nervous that I get tongue-tied. But others are nice! I think it's fun to try anyway.
clsavocat is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 12:55 PM
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The original question was the point here - making learning a language (or part of one) part of the journey. For those of us to whom it IS part of the journey, it just adds to the fun and understanding of where we're going. I definitely understand that doing so doesn't appeal to everyone! (In fact, DH is one of those "airplane learners" - on the plane trip over, he learns or relearns the 10 or so essential phrases, and has me to do the rest.)

I'm not very good, but for each trip, I pick up a little more (primarily French and Italian). I listen to tapes in the car and elsewhere (and have all sorts of stuff on my ipod), have occasionally taken classes, and I tell myself that 15 minutes each day would get me far, and I could certainly spare 15 minutes between work, kids, family, etc. I'm never that consistent or committed, but I try!

On our most recent trip to Italy, I had several Italians praise my Italian. As I said, I'm not that good, but I think the fact that I was one step beyond the travelers' phrase books, and willing to make a fool of myself for trying, was what those Italian were really praising. But their kind words warmed me for a long time.
Lexma90 is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 02:25 PM
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I always get local newspapers to "read". I have much better general comprehension reading, than hearing a language spoken. I also watch/listen to TV/radio and feel I somehow soak in a bit more that was as well.
suze is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 03:17 PM
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You understand a "little" English?

You have got to be kidding us! From your posts, I thought you were an ex-pat living near Munich. Maybe you're a software engineer that has written the best German-to-English translator? The spelling and grammar in your posts are generally spot-on.

MarkvonKramer is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 03:36 PM
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Started learning Italian in Dec for the second time on this second trip in July. The 8 CD on this course has over 8 intense hours. This is better than the 3 hour cassettes I used 10 years ago. It was difficult to understand much Italian after listening 3 hours a day for six weeks back in 1996. Now in 2006 I am starting 6 months early.
illanrob is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 04:58 PM
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I'll pipe in from the FL teacher's perspective...

I think that language is such a HUGE part of a culture that one cannot truly know a place and it's people without knowing their language.

I can imagine that without knowing the Russian language, the Russian people would have been truly misrepresented to me. They are some of the kindest, most caring and warmest people in the world- but if I could not hold a real conversation with a person, how could I ever know that?

I speak a horrid version of French- but I still learn a bit more every time I visit a French speaking country. I can hold a simple conversation and be polite. I think that my French is helped because I speak Spanish fairly well, too.

For those of you with children of age to study language, I hope as members of a travel site you support them and encourage their learning. Any exposure to a second language from a young age helps!!

I am 100% impressed with people who learn English as a 2nd or 3rd language. English has so many zany rules!! And versions, too!

katya_NY is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 05:50 PM
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While all of my European trips so far have been to the British Isles, I have done a good attempt at learning Irish and Scottish Gaelic. No, they are not required at all, as most of the natives don't even speak these languages daily. English is by far more prevalent - but I enjoy the exercise, and it's fun to learn the different cognates and such.

The only other language I know with any fluency is Spanish (I grew up in Miami, it was a defense mechanism) and a little Italian - and even less Danish. I could get by fine in a Spanish country, but I have little interest in visiting right now - other countries are higher on the list
GreenDragon is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 06:05 PM
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Well I think that learning any language should be commended. And we need o tcatch up with europe in starting our kids on languages earlier (when it's easier to learn) and demanding fuency in something besides English.

BUT - it is possible to understand a culture without being fluent in the language, although that makes it easier and more fun, simply by reading and having an open mind. (My Russian is limited to the 10 or so basic tourist phrases - but I never had any misunderstanding of the general fellings of the Russian people. I think that's due to a lack of sophistication about world politics and economy - not lack of knowing another language.)
nytraveler is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 07:43 PM
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Lexma90 above and I are on the same page - most Americans (except for a few retirees) are not going to take adult classes in a foreign language, so many folks just don't try to do anything. I submit that doing nothing language-wise just because you'll never learn it all is a poor attitude. Committing to 15 min here and 15 min there for a month before your departure certianly won't make one fluent - but you will learn a few key phrases, you may actually understand a few words while watching TV or seeing a play, and you will set yourself apart from the "typical" American tourist in the eyes of your hosts. I certainly feel my efforts paid a huge dividend on how I enjoyed my trip, not to mention - I actually learn a bit of English to boot!
docdan is offline  

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