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Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

20 Responses

  1. Anita Cate
    Anita Cate at | | Reply

    Thank you very much for the advice on how to communicate effectively. I work as a dispatcher/switchboard operator for a hospital in East Tennessee. I was prompted to search for “how to communicate with someone who speaks a foreign language” today. I had a caller who was speaking Spanish, and I was clueless. I did try asking a few different ways to figure out what he needed. Unfortunately, before I got very far along, I had lost the connection.
    Like you, I have tried for years to speak Spanish. I flunked Spanish in high school. I think a big part of my failure is due to… HOW I learn –VS- what I have tried. For me, at least one visual is needed. I can “see them in my head” later on when I’m trying to recall. I have taken some tests on the internet just for fun, something like “how do you learn best?” . I have surprisingly learned a lot about how I learn. First and best is kinesthetically (as in hands on), secondly is visual, then last was audible. At the time, I didn’t even know what the first one meant!

    I was easily able to learn sign language with basically no effort! A local school for deaf students offers community education classes. I took them, and then actually taught them. Isn’t that W I L D ??
    That was over 25 years ago, and I still remember most all the vocabulary I learned. I definitely remember the signs that were taught to me with an explanation of why the gesture is the sign. *Example: “coffee” Is using your hands to mime an antique coffee grinder)
    After the first seven weeks of class I talked to my teacher about how easy it was to remember the signs, as opposed to never being able to learn Spanish. She explained that I was not learning a foreign language Signed English. is still English. I feel that makes perfect sense! I was essentially just translating for myself.

  2. dom
    dom at | | Reply

    Ok, most of this was just what you want the other person to do, but I still got hang up with the parisian woman who spoke english.
    Honestly. French people and ESPECIALLY Parsians dont answer in english. They strictly talk to you in french. If you go further south, yeah, that might change a bit there, but still: They still try to teach you french and have you talk as much french as you can.

    I am in france right now, travelling, not speaking french. Im here for 3 months now, and I know for a fact that this is absolutely not true, at all.

    Actually, the opposite is true: Parisians can speak english, sometimes atleast, but if you ask in english they will look at you for a moment, say “No. Bye.” turn around and walk away. (That was my very first conversation in france btw. Asking for the nearest wifi… )

  3. “Finding Myself”: The Uncomfortable Journey | Indiana Jo
    “Finding Myself”: The Uncomfortable Journey | Indiana Jo at |

    […] the store, already anxious for the inevitable conversation with the cashier in the check-out line. What if they asked me something I didn’t understand? What if someone laughed at me? (I’m serious, y’all, I was that worked up.) I tried my hardest […]

  4. Thomas
    Thomas at | | Reply

    What method of learning suits you ? How do you prefer to learn ? Do you know ?
    Perhaps this is why we have difficultly learning a new language, skill or have trouble improving existing skills ?
    What if the environment in which you grew up in or now live in is not conducive to the things you need to learn ? and so many other questions…
    Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teasing
    In some Mexican Indigenous American communities, teasing is used in an effective educative way. Teasing is found more useful because it allows the child to feel and understand the relevant effect of their behavior instead of receiving out of context feedback.

  5. jonny
    jonny at | | Reply

    This article is excellent – you hit upon so many true points that so few people seem to get when interacting with other people. I have to laugh at how unaware people are of the language they use with foreigners. I’m an EFL teacher and so speaking in graded English is like second nature to me, and I am baffled sometimes when I overhear others.

    A gelateria in Rome for example, with a server who speaks enough English to understand what flavour of ice cream his customers want. A British tourist who has the server’s attention, wants to graciously indicate that in fact he is not the next person in line. This is how he chooses to express that idea: “Nah you’re alright mate, sort this lass out first, would ya?”

    Something I also find amusing here in Latin America, is when people speak to you in fluent Spanish, and then will randomly translate the most simple word into English for you. Today my guide said something along the lines of “Entonces en esta región se producen y se exportan muchos productos diferentes a varios paises del mundo, sobre todo el café. Saben qué es el café? Coffee, es coffee”. Because the word for “coffee” is what really trips you up in that sentence, right? I’ve had the same thing with waiters ‘helpfully’ translating the word “pollo” for me, because although I understood the description of how the food was cooked, and the different parts of the animal, I of course hadn’t grasped that we were talking about chicken. Hahaha.

    Once again, great article.

  6. Katrina
    Katrina at | | Reply

    “Sure, I know you want to practice too, but I’m the one who had the courage to pluck up the conversation. I made the approach…so I pick the language. You wanna practice? Go find your own foreigner to start a conversion with.” <– THIS! I can definitely relate to this. It is disconcerting when they try to switch it back to English, either to show off their prowess or out of kindliness. Either way, I wish they'd stick to German/native language unless or until I switch it back to English after exhausting my vocabulary in the other language!

  7. Sally
    Sally at | | Reply

    This is all so true. My parents recently moved to Germany and my mom is going through this right now, I know a few people in town that could do with reading this list haha.

  8. Sam
    Sam at | | Reply

    Word! Being both a language learner and a EFL teacher, I can relate to this a lot. As a learner, it’s frustrating when people don’t go at your pace, but being a teacher, it can also be frustrating when you’ve got that one student who just doesn’t get it no matter how many different ways you try to explain something while the rest of the class is so bored because they got it the first time. It’s a complicated dynamic. One big problem I find as a learner is that most people aren’t good teachers, and won’t know how to grade their language to your level, especially if they’re not used to speaking to non-natives. If everyone followed your advice, though, we’d be fine!

  9. Gary Ward
    Gary Ward at | | Reply

    Hi Jo, One of the nicest people I ever met abroad was a German bar-lady in a hotel in Heimstetten near Munich. I stayed in that hotel maybe 4/5 times a year for about 4 years. She obviously knew I was English, she always greeted me with “Hello, Ghary” and then always did me the courtesy of speaking German to me. If I was alone, she would even give me German newspapers to read.
    Gary

  10. Corinne
    Corinne at | | Reply

    Good post. As travelers we run into this all the time. My biggest pet peeve is the answering in English….hate that!

  11. Adelina | PackMeTo
    Adelina | PackMeTo at | | Reply

    A lot of great tips here Jo. Language learning can be so frustrating, but when you get it right, its such an amazing feeling. I’m especially fond of cave speak. Usually in my deer in headlights moments what ends up coming out has no semblance to a sentence at all, but as long as you make your point, I think its a win.

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