Three phrases every traveler should learn

Travelers' language books are totally useless. I buy one for most new languages I'll be confronting and am disappointed every time. It's worth having them for the easy access dictionary (my vote goes to ones with listings by category, like 'food' 'hygiene' and 'family') but for conversation, I've always found them lacking. It doesn't help that the common (and often accurate) assumption is that anywhere you go someone will speak enough English that you won't be stranded. Doesn't matter. Well, shouldn't matter. We're not going to throw out the old 'loud, stupid American tourist' stereotype if we go about making asses out of u's and me's'. We do it by trying, and by being polite.

With our Switzerland trip now within a month, I've just started wrapping my head around having to communicate. Switzerland might be one of the safest places to assume that I'll never have to speak a different language, but no matter. We'll be spending most of our time in the French side of the country, but will dip east into the German side (no Italian this trip :( ) so, as with every destination, I'm going to try master AT LEAST three things:

1. A polite way to say "I want". Filling in the blank is easy. You can look them up as occasion requires . Some suggestions: go, eat, buy, look at, this, that, cheese, water, bathroom, and anything else you might want or want to do. Yes, it will be grammatically incorrect. But people will understand. And that's the point.
     French: ja voo (soft j)
     German: ick vill (v is almost a w)
2. Basic subjects and possessives, i.e., Me/my, you/your, he/his, etc. Yes, many languages conjugate these into their speech, or gender them, but you don't know how to do that, and won't likely for a week long trip. Give yourself a break and learn how to gesture.
     French: mohn (my), votre: (barely saying the e, your), son (barely say the n, his/her)
     German: mine (my), ire (your/his/her)

3. "Thank you, really." For dramatic effect, pause after saying thank you, making eye contact, then add the "really/so much". Gets 'em every time.
     French: Mer- see ... bocu
     German: danka shoen (Ferris Bueller was singing it wrong!)

Bonus points: Excuse me, pardon me, or sorry. When traveling, you are so commonly an idiot it's good to know how to apologize.

Double bonus points: Listen to YouTube videos of people speaking French or German or whatever and try your darndest to mimic. Language books are generally awful at describing sounds, and no matter how many times I try, I always seem to get the phonetic guide alphabet they use in dictionaries backwards. Listen, mimic, sound like an American trying and failing. But trying.


Cari said...

Good post. For French 'I want' I suggest ' je voudrais' ( juh voo dray) instead. It is ' I would like'. Go get 'em!

Windy Dawn said...

I love this post, and totally agree! I am absolutely terrible at speaking other languages, but dang it, I'm gonna try while I'm traveling.