“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
“Caca con helado, por favor.”
I remember, back in the late summer of 1999, sitting in a small restaurant in the jungle city of Iquitos where I had recently moved. I had just successfully ordered lunch in Spanish. Everything had arrived perfectly, as requested. Un vaso de vino tinto, sandwich de queso bien caliente, y papas fritas. I was doing good! My chest was all puffed out with pride. I was learning the language! Well, why not have some dessert, I thought. And, so, in my very best basic Spanish I asked for chocolate cake with ice cream. Yum! A perfect ending to a successful dining experience. The server looked at me with a quizzical look and, in that moment, I knew my limited Spanish had taken a nose dive. “Caca,” I said. “Caca con helado.” After a little chuckle, the server smiled and said, “postre?” I realized immediately what I had been asking for, and it wasn’t cake! Together, we shared a bit of laughter and created a fond memory of my first days there.
Don’t be afraid to try out the language.
It’s the way you learn, make friends and can create some pretty fun memories. Talk to the locals. Put your embarrassment aside. The locals are thrilled to have you try, even if it’s not perfect. I found that many times they are as interested in practicing English as I was their language. They would speak English and I would speak Spanish. Somehow, we found a way to communicate and both had a chance to practice the language we were each learning.
Try some non-verbal communication.
A smile, hand gestures, facial expressions and a look of general confusion. a little humor and a few words in their language will get you a long way. People in other countries want to help you. They appreciate your attempt to communicate.
Try not to fall into the “Do you speak English” trap?”
It’s easy to do. You are feeling a little awkward. You don’t know the all words to communicate clearly. You are not wanting to feel embarrassed and finding out if they speak English seems a lot easier that struggling through a bad conversation. Just remember, if you don’t try, you won’t learn, and it shows respect to the person and their culture.
An in-country extended stay is a great way to learn the language.
I found that living an hospetaje in Peru, when I first moved to Iquitos, was a perfect way to learn the language. I would sit with the cook in the kitchen after dinner and she would talk to me and talk to me and talk to me. I would listen and think, I have no idea what you are talking about. I had arrived to Peru knowing only a few words in Spanish and and couple of verbs. I thought I was doomed in the language department until Salina made me her language project. She talked to me every night after dinner for the 6 months that I lived in that house and, as a result, I became somewhat conversational. During the 18 months, when I lived in my own place, I was able to sit with local families outside their homes in the evening and talk about life. Not always sure what the other was talking about, we always seemed to somehow understand to have the best of times, sitting under the stars in a city called Iquitos, in the heart of the Amazon.
Signup for a language immersion class.
Look for an immersion classes near you at a local language school or college or university. If you want a more authentic experience you can go to a program in another country where you have the opportunity to practice speaking with the locals. Antigua, Guatemala and Cuenca, Ecuador a two cities that offer language immersion programs. There are many programs around the globe. If experiencing the culture while learning the language appeals to you, research the programs in the country of your choice.
Take a class at your local college or online.
Purchase an online or computer language course.
There are number of excellent online language courses available and also lessons on CDs/DVDs that guide you through the process of learning a language.
Translator Program and Apps
There are language translation apps for both iPhone and Adroid phones, as well as electronic translator devices that provide you with phrases in the language of your choice. Initially, these can be useful when you are just learning a language by helping you to say a complete phrase or sentence when you want to use more that a few disconnected words. This option can be useful when it is important that your communication is clear.
Have you learned a second language? What worked well for you? Do you have any fun stories about trying to communicate in a foreign country? Please share below.