It can be daunting to travel to places where the citizens speak a foreign language. For countries where English is not the native tongue but it is prevalent, it can also be tempting to not bother with learning any. The bottom line: it is always polite to learn at least a few basics before you go anywhere. Attempting a few phrases will be appreciated by the natives and they will probably admire you more for trying. Plus, if people find you respectful, they will think more positively about the country you come from and let’s face it Americans don’t always have the best of reputations when it comes to being travelers.
In fact, I once traveled with someone who was frustrated that a cashier at a fast food restaurant did not understand him (yes, my friend forced us to go to fast food in Europe) so he pulled out some American bills, waived it around and said, “you understand that huh—American buckaroos?” (and yes, it was back when American dollars were worth a lot). It was even more humiliating when we realized that the guy was just trying to communicate that he could take our Francs but could not give us the higher exchange difference. Perhaps with a little patience and the universal and all important phrase, “I’m sorry I don’t understand” it could have been a less painful experience for all of us.
One method for learning a language that I have had good experiences with is to study by podcast. There are many podcasts on iTunes as well as generally on the Internet if you just Google “language by podcast.” You can even download some from public libraries that offer downloadable media to its members. Most provide the first few basic lessons for free. Many will provide you with additional written materials to further your studies. This method is great because you can study anywhere like the subway, doing the dishes and walking the dog. Most importantly you can practice your pronunciation which I find the most intimidating part of learning any language.
Two that I have had good experiences with are Learn French by Podcast and Survival Phrases (Greek). The first set has a lot of conversational language. Two people have a conversation and it is great practice for understanding when others speak to you in real life. Survival Phrases have many different languages to choose from. The instructor’s voice is very pleasant and sounds like someone you would actually like to have a conversation with. I used a beginner version that had lots of repetition and useful phrases that I used many times on my trip.
TIP: To find podcasts on iTunes, click the arrow beside the Podcasts tab, choose Education, on the bottom right hand side of the page you will see a box labeled More Education, choose language courses.
To quote Survival Phrases, “A little language can go a long way.”