Do You Speak American?

Watertown Travel Blog

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Le tour d'eiffel - Paris
English is my native language and the only languages that I've had formal training in are Latin and classical Greek. Both of these are so-called "dead" languages, which means that with a few exceptions, no one speaks or writes those languages any more. (Incidentally, I have heard that Latin in one of the language choices on the ATM machines in Vatican City but that's only because Latin is still the "official" language of the Catholic Church.)

In spite of never having learned a modern foreign language, language has rarely been a barrier for me when I've traveled. That's because English is spoken by people almost everywhere I've gone. This is certainly true in Europe.

So does this mean you shouldn't learn other languages? The answer is "No." Knowing the language will make foreign travel much easier. Examples abound. In Spain, a colleague of mine who spoke fluent Spanish was able to get much better prices for our student group on a river cruise. In Mexico my son Jon, who also is fluent in Spanish, was able to strike up a relationship with one of the Spanish speaking bar maids at our hotel. In Greece last year, my wife and I were looking for a hotel and thought we'd catch a cab. But after talking to 5 cab drivers, none of whom spoke any English, we ended up wandering around for 30 minutes before we found the right street.

I do think that an essential travel skill when traveling to a foreign land is to know a few basic words and phrases in the native language. Words like "hello," "good morning," and "thank you" will go a long ways. It's not that locals don't understand the English for these words. Using these words suggest that you are trying to do things on their terms. And the locals appreciate that. You are the guests, after all.

One of my favorite stories about language happened to me on a trip to Paris. I had heard that the Parisians were especially picky about the use of English so I had mastered a few basic words. One afternoon I walked into a small store looking to buy a bottle of water, which I saw behind the counter. The clerk greeted me and for the life of me, I couldn't think of the French word for water (l'eau) and finally said, "Agua, por favor," which is Spanish for "water, please." The clerk smiled at me and asked, "Water?" I smiled sheepishly and paid for the water. But at least I tried

Travel Tip: Speaking Spanish In Western Europe
My sons taught me that because Spanish is a romance language (derived directly from Latin), speaking Spanish sometimes will work in other countries that Speak Romance languages - France and Italy, for example. So don't be afraid to try it. Speaking Latin doesn't work.
Eric says:
Dang, 4 years of Latin for nothing...
Posted on: May 05, 2007
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Le tour deiffel - Paris
Le tour d'eiffel - Paris
photo by: sshephard