I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of learning a foreign language lately. Learning to speak French has not come easy for me. There are all those verb conjugations, memorizing whether something is feminine or masculine (sausage is feminine?! C’mon!!). and remembering when to drop the back half of the word. Something that helps me from getting discouraged is holding onto the tiny, everyday triumphs. Last week I had my immigration appointment and I managed to get through most of it in French. Small event, huge triumph! Being able to communicate in everyday life, from buying stamps at the post office to getting a bikini wax, is what helps feel like I’m not completely hopeless.
Language also exists in the context of culture. Arguably, I think that learning and adapting to a different culture is even more important than language skills. When you know the customs and you respect them, you will find an ease in that culture that won’t exist if you don’t bend to meet it. In the past when I travelled in France I did not speak any French beyond a few words like Bonjour and Merci. Yet I always had a wonderful experience and was treated with so much kindness and helpfulness by the people I met. I truly believe this is because I learned about the culture and did my best to adapt and embrace it. Try it! The next time you travel to someplace without a common language watch the way people behave and try to emulate that. You’d be surprised on how far you can get with just hello and thank you, and how much it can change your experience.
What do you think? Have you traveled to countries without knowing the language? What was your experience?