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As travelers we are all lucky to speak English
Old 03-19-2010, 11:29 AM   #1
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As travelers we are all lucky to speak English

I think we (or at least I) take it for granted, but the overwhelming majority of places to travel have English as the default "travel language" that is spoken, however basically, by locals who you'll need to interact with for things like hotels, transportation, etc.

This really hits home when you're somewhere like Laos and see tourists from Japan, Brazil, Germany, Russia, and China (yes China, Northern neighbor of Laos) struggling thru English in any tourist related activity with a local.

Granted the Chinese have an advantage in larger Asian cities including Vientiane as there is always a Chinese population and Chinese part of town, but from Panama City to Dubai to Bangkok when if you've got any chance at trying to explain to a taxi driver where you want to go using a foreign language English your best bet.

How convenient.
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Old 03-19-2010, 12:14 PM   #2
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I definitely agree. We recently returned from a trip to S America where the local language was Spanish, but of a dialect that was difficult for me to understand. The fact that English was readily spoken by many, even in broken form, is reassuring and instills more confidence in me that I can travel wherever and get by ok. I could usually converse in the local language better than the locals could converse in English, but it was a nice break when, for example, the hotel front desk staff spoke proficient English and I didn't have to work to communicate. Even though we were half way around the world, and in some places we never saw Americans, the second language after Spanish was English.

DW and I would like to travel the world some day. And just recently I realized that the language barrier could prevent us from "going local" in many places, since between DW and I, we are limited to English, Spanish, Laotian/Thai, basic French, and a smattering of a few words in other languages. My goal would be to learn a little of the local language, but I know that English is the de facto international 2nd language of business and travel.

In a way, it is a little embarrassing that many or most of us in the US speak only 1 language, or very basic bits of a second language. Then I pass by someone on the street in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and ask a question, to which her response (in spanish) is "Do you speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, or French the best".
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Old 03-19-2010, 02:49 PM   #3
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Not only in travel is English the default language but when I was deployed to a NATO base the default language was English as well. Every foreign soldier spoke English fluently and I thought how convenient that I already knew English.
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Old 03-19-2010, 03:00 PM   #4
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Tagging on to what Arif said, the international language of aviation is English.

From Wikipedia (for what it's worth ) :
Quote:
Although local languages are sometimes used in ATC communications, the default language of aviation worldwide is English. Controllers who do not speak this as a first language are generally expected to show a certain minimum level of competency with the language.
My favorite air traffic controllers were the French. They spoke English with an attitude so thick you could cut it with a knife!
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Old 03-19-2010, 03:40 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by tiuxiu View Post
How convenient.
Good post. It takes a traveler to appreciate this. I think a good (or at least useful) super power to have would be to speak every language. That would be very cool.

The other side of us taking English for granted is that we expect, and sometimes demand, that foreign visitors to the US speak it perfectly. I'm embarrassed and mortified when someone here gets frustrated with a foreign traveler and blurts out "Speak F*%&ing English!".
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Old 03-19-2010, 04:02 PM   #6
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The other side of us taking English for granted is that we expect, and sometimes demand, that foreign visitors to the US speak it perfectly. I'm embarrassed and mortified when someone here gets frustrated with a foreign traveler and blurts out "Speak F*%&ing English!".
I get a kick out of hearing someone in true redneck twang say "Them thar furiners nayd ta larn ta spayek ma language". Makes you want to say "cut them some slack, it's probably their third or fourth language".
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Old 03-19-2010, 04:04 PM   #7
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What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual

What do you call someone who only speaks one language? An American.
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Old 03-19-2010, 04:19 PM   #8
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I think there is a least an 50/50 chance that our grandkids or great grandkids, will need to learn Mandarin. Man that will be tough.
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Old 03-19-2010, 06:41 PM   #9
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I think there is a least an 50/50 chance that our grandkids or great grandkids, will need to learn Mandarin. Man that will be tough.
A lot of people were saying the same thing about japanese
(and chinese for that matter) 35-50 yrs. ago
so i'm not sure i'd go as high as 50/50

On the other hand. i am the only english native speaker here in my cubie
row here at work. I've got polish , german, romanian, and vietnamese
native speakers here. That certainly would not have been the case back
when i entered the workforce..
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Old 03-19-2010, 07:59 PM   #10
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Perhaps I am naturally stubborn, but I much prefer to speak the language of the country in which I am located, rather than English. It has been a point of pride that I can get along for an extended period of time speaking only French, Italian or Spanish. If I travel elsewhere, it may be a problem, but I will try my best to learn some basics before I go.
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Old 03-19-2010, 08:08 PM   #11
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I've been to only two places where I've had trouble making myself understood: London and San Francisco.

Edit: P.S. to Cliffp: Ni Hao and Gung Hay Fat Choy will get you a long way.
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Old 03-19-2010, 10:12 PM   #12
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I can speak Mandarin, and it's actually come in handy in the weirdest places.

Panama - My Spanish is very rudimentary, but hey guess who owns lots of the local grocery stores? They didn't speak biao zhun de at all, but well enough for me to get directions. I did that several times in Panama.

Czech Republic - Come out of the subway no clue which way to go, and hey there's a Chinese restaurant across the street. The younger girl there spoke perfect Mandarin.

I'm still on the fence on whether Mandarin will be the need-to-know for the younger generation, as there are a lot more people in China struggling to learn English than the other way around, and English already has a dominance in so many other countries that are economically, politically, and militarily influential.

If I had a kid I'd probably recommend Spanish.
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Old 03-20-2010, 12:42 AM   #13
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I don't think English will replaced as the international language in my lifetime, and I guess I don't care much after I am dead, I don't have kids. I do think it will quickly moved in second place.

One of the richest guys I meet (outside of Silicon Valley), studied Chinese Art History. I can imagine his parents having a fit about that in the 1970s . However, it has proven to be a very valuable to him cause he learned Mandarin and also quite about Chinese culture. I am sure he has gotten better deal and higher level of trust and respect, than a typical Western.

Tiuxiu, good stories. How did you learn Mandarin?
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Old 03-20-2010, 12:57 AM   #14
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I think there is a least an 50/50 chance that our grandkids or great grandkids, will need to learn Mandarin. Man that will be tough.
I'd be happy to just share a common vocabulary with those generations. English would be an unexpected bonus...
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Old 03-20-2010, 01:32 AM   #15
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I am fluent in English, French and German and I can speak enough Spanish and Italian to get around. Speaking English certainly helps in most places around the world, but when we went to Spain a few years ago, my bad Spanish had more success than my best English. So it probably pays off to make a bit of an effort.
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Old 03-20-2010, 01:55 PM   #16
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English is the universal international language - I do speak Spanish, some German and understand French and Italian. My husband speaks fluent Polish and understands Russian and other Slavic languages. When we travel we try to speak in the language or close to the language of the country we are in - however, once the person finds out we speak English, they try and speak English with us. So our attempt to practice our foreign language skills ends up being a bi-lingual conversation....me speaking their language and them speaking mine. It can be a PITA - I usually ask if my XXX is so bad that they need to speak English - they are usually polite and say no, but I think they want to practice their English skills while they can.

Most of the music around here has English lyrics, so they do get some bit of 'immersion' in English. Don't hear much German music in the US....Spanish is very different, though. Spain Spanish and South American Spanish are not necessarily close - different vocabulary....and in Italy and Spain they listen to music more in their own language. Actually, I've found the farther south you go in Europe, the less they speak English. The farther north, the more languages they speak..up to five I've found in Norway.
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Old 03-21-2010, 01:27 AM   #17
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English has been emerging for a long time as the most common world language and the language of business. It is one of those little ironic bits of history that when the Germans & Japanese met to plan activities in WWII, they spoke English to each other.
Probably not an American accent. One thing I enjoy when traveling around the world is figuring out where they have learned their English from. Often English accents show up. When I had a fellow in Spain I had to do business with, he had a pure Texan accent.
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Old 03-21-2010, 01:47 AM   #18
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Old 03-21-2010, 05:19 AM   #19
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Won't be long till you will speak English in the a device and it translates for you and vice versa.


http://blog.taragana.com/index.php/a...lator-for-499/
Google Working on Voice Language Translation for Mobile Phones

Even though these devices will not be perfect... they will probably be a huge help for travelers. Combine of these devices with a GPS solves a bunch of problems. How to speak the local lingo and where the heck am I!


But large countries like China and India seem to have multiple local languages. I would not surprise me to find that English is more common language in India than any of local languages.

In India, apparently there are 2 major language groups, and 22 to 122 languages depending on how many people speak the dialect.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_India

China is similar, it seems to have a couple of major language families with 7 major dialects and many more subcategories.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_spoken_languages
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Old 03-21-2010, 10:15 AM   #20
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As native speakers of English, I have found that we have considerable experience understanding a wide variety of dialects. Myself, I have often been in the position of translating English to English (spoken by a Chinese/Spanish/Danish/Indian/Pakistani/Newfoundlander/French Canadian).(Not all one person, you understand.)
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