Language…and communication

I am not gifted at languages. In part because I am not particularly auditory. I am a bit on the tone deaf side, and it is getting worse as I get older, as is my hearing in general, and I like silence most of the time.

I studied Japanese for a year, over a year before my first trip there. We weren’t planning the trip when we took the course and I wasn’t actually all that interested. I only took it because that was the only way the community college would let my then 14 year old son take the class (we were homeschooling other subjects).

Brag: He was 14, I was 41 and everyone else in the class was between us, including the instructor. We BOTH aced it! (I was so proud).

But when we got feet on the ground, my carefully learned Japanese flew out the window, except for a few phrases. (My son did better.)

However, the experience taught me something, or maybe reminded me of it (see my “I” post about ordering ice cream in Colmar). A few phrases, spoken properly and well pronounced, will take you a long way, because people will meet you more than halfway when you have taken the trouble.

Spoken Language

If you have time, it is worth studying the language, even if it does go away, like it does for me, when you really need it. You get a feel for the way that people express themselves. For example are they SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) or SOV (Subject-Object-Verb)? This can help you decipher less than perfect English responses. It also gets you used to the sound of the language so you don’t feel as unfamiliar and disoriented.

Here are the phrases I recommend you learn:

  • Thank you
  • Please
  • Excuse me
  • I’m sorry
  • What is this?
  • I want to go to ______
  • One chocolate and one vanilla (ice cream)
  • When?
  • How much?

The internet has a lot of resources, both bad and good. The main thing is to really learn the correct pronunciation for the phrases you do learn. Watching a slowed down native speaker can help a lot with this.

Written Language

A real (ink on paper) phrasebook is still a worthwhile investment

  • No battery to die.
  • No WiFi or data connection needed.
  • The phrases are grouped topically. Making it easy to find what you need to communicate, and what form the reply is likely to take.
  • There are an almost infinite number of ways to say most things, and a translation program can get the wrong end of the stick pretty easily, whereas in a phrase book you can find what is, generally, the most standard way of expressing a particular idea on a particular topic. This is very true in Chinese where context matters a lot.
  • If you are uncertain of pronunciation all you have to do is point…and so can the other person.
  • No WiFi or data connection needed.
  • No battery to die.

Body Language

You don’t always need words.

You can do a lot with miming, but the one thing you need to do to have a great trip is:


This grandma wanted to show off her grandchildren.

Especially at children and the elderly. Always.

Share your own language

This young man was studying English and told his mom to stop so he could talk to me. Then he got shy.

Always be ready to talk with folks who are or have been studying English. Maybe you have to catch a later bus, but it is worth is to have a real interaction. When we travel we are all ambassadors.

This little girl was eager to practice her English with my son, who rescued her umbrella from going overboard on a Yangtze River cruise.

3 thoughts on “Language…and communication”

  1. It really is amazing how much communication can happen with very few words.
    “When we travel we are all ambassadors.”
    ^^^I want this printed up and everyone has to sign off on it before they are allowed through the departure gates…

    Happy A-Z’ing

    Liked by 1 person

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