Learning The Language


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Chances are good that as a traveler you are visiting a country where you do not speak the local language. Even in places where some people can speak English, they may speak it with a strange accent or use unfamiliar vocabulary. Even if you don’t understand what people are saying to each other, you should listen to them speak. One can tell a great deal from visual cues, cadence, level of eye contact between speakers, and disposition of participants. This also falls into general social awareness.

You may feel foolish stumbling through pronunciation with a phrasebook, but the point of a phrasebook usually isn’t so that you can say something the local will understand, it’s so that you can point to a word or concept in the book and they can read it. Electronic dictionaries are expensive and break easily. Don’t bother bringing one.

Watch how the locals use hand gestures. Similar gestures often mean different things in different cultures. It’s likely that people will do some kind of hand gesture when you confuse them or they don’t know the answer to a question. Copy that gesture and use it with the people who are trying to sell you things that you don’t want to buy. Don’t forget however locals may not consider themselves all to be equals. Certain gestures, usually greetings, might denote hierarchy and imitating the wrong gesture could embarrass you.

Finally, remember that people are probably going to want to speak at least a little English with you. This will make them look intelligent in front of their friends, so give them the chance to make face while you adapt to their language.

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