Learning Languages for a Short Trip

If You've Got a Little Time for a Short Trip

If you are going on vacation to a place where English is not the language (and I'll pass up the chance to make jokes about “British” English), what to do?

Start with your needs. What parts of the language might be most useful? If you'll be staying in a big hotel with lots of international customers, it is likely that you can make your basic needs known in English, so you might want instead to focus your study on a vocabulary of use in negotiating prices in the antique market nearby you've heard about. If a child is allergic to MSG, knowing how to say that in Thai is going to be much more important than being able to chat about the weather.

After you've passed the immediate needs category, take a look at words and phrases that can do double duty, such as words that you can combine with gestures and place names to work for you. For example, learning how to say “Where is"¦” and then attaching a place name is good stuff. Learning to say “Which is better, Pepsi or Coke?” is less so.

Always try and get the basic polite words, even if they are all you know: Please, Thank You, May I"¦ (combined say with a gesture with your camera seeking permission to take a picture), Where, When, that sort of thing.

Don't worry if you are not going to understand all the answers, as it is very likely that your new foreign interlocutor is gonna know you are not a native speaker of her language and will most often try and adjust her answers accordingly.

While the fact that you are not a native speaker is usually about as obvious as things can be, learning to say “May I speak in English?” in the target language is almost always seen as a polite thing to do. Be surprised that folks in Rangoon can help you in English, and not annoyed in Cairo when your waiter cannot.

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