Lindsay Does Languages…while she travels

Categories: Guest Post, Learning, Travel & Culture

Oh, hey! Not who you expected? Nice to meet you. My name’s Lindsay and I blog over at Lindsay Does Languages and Mundo Trundle, as well as making pretty little videos about language on my YouTube channel. I’m here today to share some of my favourite travel experiences that have been made that extra bit special by my knowledge of the local (but not always local!) language.

Second only to my love of languages is my love of travel. As in, a very close second. So learning a bit of the local lingo before heading off somewhere new has always been a priority of mine.

Burma.

Well, not quite always…Back in 2011, I headed off to Asia for some solo travel through countries with quirky looking alphabets and unreadable menus. I was hoping to visit between 10 and 15 different countries, all speaking different languages. Despite my love for languages, there was no way I was going to learn all of those! So I didn’t. And I’ll be honest, I survived through a few countries. Until I got to Thailand. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by text I couldn’t read. Even when I’d visited European countries where I didn’t speak the language, I could still attempt to read words in the local language because they used the same alphabet as English.

But Thai? Nope!

So I invested in a phrasebook to help me along my way. And off I jetted to Burma. A country with an equally different alphabet. By this point, I was getting keen to make more of an effort than my pre-departure ‘effort’ and so I even downloaded a Burmese for Beginners book and audio from SOAS to keep me busy in the evenings! The phrasebook proved handy in Burma and one of my favourite memories is spending an afternoon at a noodle stand chatting away with 3 local ladies who were infinitely impressed by my attempts at their language (with the help of my phrasebook!).

burma language blog lindsay does languages
Alas, Burma proved herself to be a tough old cookie and made me ill. Very ill. So ill in fact that I was whisked to the local doctor’s shed through knee deep flood water half way through my trip. Nice.

Macedonia.

In little old Macedonia, English isn’t really a strong language amongst the older population, so (inevitably) getting lost on our search for our hostel on day one meant that my Macedonian basics I’d learnt pre-trip got a little work out, as I asked a rather large proportion of the local population for directions. Thankfully we found the hostel pretty sharpish. Not so thankfully, we thought the guy was a potential axe murderer. So out came the Macedonian again, as we hunted for a new place to stay! With wi-fi not yet on the streets of Skopje, and roaming charges ridonculously high, a little language went a long way to saving us time in the cold!

macedonia skopje bridge black and white cold lindsay does languages blog

Morocco.

I loved Morocco: the chance to practise my French and learn a bit of Arabic? Brilliant! As it turned out though, I spoke more Chinese…

On our bus from Marrakesh to Essaouira, I pointed out to my friend in amazement a solo elderly Asian man opposite us who was using his finger to write Chinese characters on his touchscreen phone to text! Incredible.

When we arrived at Essaouira, the touts were all over him like a rash. I couldn’t let that happen. I headed over and told the tout he was with us (in French). This didn’t go down well, but I persisted (in French) before turning to the Chinese man and telling him not to worry and that I spoke a little Chinese (in Chinese). This conversation of French argument and Chinese encouragement continued until the tout gave up and we walked away towards the town. And by golly gosh, we walked. We couldn’t find our hostel at all! We asked locals (in French and Arabic and Spanish) before the Chinese man pointed to a young couple with a map. I gave him a thumbs up and headed over.

“English?” I asked, hopefully.

They shook their heads.

“Français?” Another head shake.

“Español?” Yet again.

“Italiano?”

“Siiiii! Italiano!”

And so Italian was added to the list of languages spoken that day.

two girls and a chinese man morocco travel lindsay does languages blog

I can honestly say that I was not expecting to dust off my rusty Chinese in Morocco! This is truly one of my favourite stories of language being a worthy hobby, because it really goes to show that you never know when (or where!) you’ll benefit from your language skills – the Chinese man even paid for our hotel as a thank you for us helping him out!

Have you ever used your languages unexpectedly abroad? How do you learn a bit of the language before a holiday? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments! Oh yes, and be sure to come and say hello over on my blogs and YouTube channel. Bonus points if you greet me in a language other than English!

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