Friday, April 15 2011
I saw a guy shove his phone through the open window of a taxi a couple of nights ago and say “Do you know where this is?” in his thick US accent. Context: I live in Berlin. Imagine if someone in Melbourne did this, in German. How do you think it would it go down?
Sure, English is a “world language”; or so people keep telling me, and so we English speakers love to believe. But why are Anglophone travellers so often naively superior, hopeless at languages in general and more specifically hopeless at making the slightest effort to try the local tongue?
People talk of the French as arrogant and unwilling to help travellers. I’d be arrogant and supremely unhelpful too, if people came into my shop and picked everything up nonchalantly, yelled at each other in a thick (insert English-speaking country here) accent, asked the price of a couple of things in English without saying bonjour, s’il-vous plaît or merci, and then left everything in a mess without buying anything.
Even The Age Online/Fairfax’s travel writer Ben Groundwater, who has evidently been travelling the world for the past who-knows how many years, can only speak the one language; he lamented this in a recent article (which is worth a read, actually What would your ten be? I’ve been trying to figure mine out since I read this. I haven’t got a clue. There are too many fascinating places in the world!) But, honestly, I just don’t get it. What is up with us Anglophones? I’ve had a gutful of it, mate, and I wish we could pull our finger out and at least be willing to give other languages a go when it is well and truly in our best interest.
Sure, learning a language is hard work. There are only two ways to do it properly: you can go to school in Northern Europe, and you’ll speak English and another language perfectly by the end of it. For the rest of us who weren’t born in Scandinavia, the other way is to go and spend an extended length of time in a place, try to stop your brain thinking in English for a while, and get immersed in the language and the culture that comes with it. This means time, a lot of effort, excruciatingly embarrassing moments, leaving your friends and family behind; the short-term starting of a new life, in other words. The experience is, however, amazingly rewarding, and the perspective and opportunities a language gives you to properly partake in a culture are incredible. I would recommend it to everyone and anyone at the drop of the hat. Imagine dreaming in another language! It’s as good and mind-boggling as you think.
If you haven’t got time to do this, there are lots of simpler options before and during your travel that will make the experience easier and more rewarding.
• Intensive language courses for people of all levels are easily found. Do a month before you fly out! (The CAE or the Lyceum Language Centre are just a couple of options, both in close proximity to the uni.)
• Find a friend who speaks the language and figure out a way to pay them back for a few hours of lessons a week. Bake them muffins! Weed their garden! De-lice their chook! Whatever, just hearing the language and getting stepped through easy vocab will be so helpful, and fun too.
• Or, quite simply, buy a phrasebook, read it on the plane, and have it at the ready in shops and at other opportune moments. Like all the time.
Seriously, the locals will appreciate it, you’ll have an exponentially more rad time, and you won’t be left wondering why “everyone in this country is arrogant and rude!”
You’re the rude ones!