Posted by: Ciaran | November 1, 2009

Reasons to love travelling #4 – Learning a new language

Up there with never persevering in learning to play a musical instrument is the disappointment that I didn’t continue with either French or Spanish after finishing my GCSEs.  I am indescribably envious when I see friends who are bi- or multi-lingual reading foreign newspapers or having fluent discussions in other languages.

It’s probably a lot to do with the fact that I’m a bit nosy and like to know what’s going on, and thus hate the feeling of isolation when I’m excluded from a conversation because it is being conducted in a foreign language.  But the real thing about it is the loss of communication (which most of us Brits compensate for by speaking very slowly and loudly and often in simple language, as though we were talking to a child).


A sign I spotted in Copenhagen...

So when I travel I like to try my hand at a bit of the language, although it usually ends with me being bamboozled when I ask a simple question and then realise that I don’t understand a word of the response.  So by ‘learning’ a language, I more realistically mean ‘trying’ a language for a while, and then hopefully absorbing some of the best phrases and keeping them.

For instance, I knew for a long time the Arabic for ‘No worries!’ thanks to a taxi driver in Abu Dhabi who seemed to stay on the road more by chance than design.  The grand prix this afternoon will be nothing compared to the usual traffic on the roads there!  One of my current favourites is the Hindi word ‘cello’, which means ‘Let’s go’. 


Another childish giggle in Copenhagen...

And of course one thing that has to be picked up is the ability to swear in a foreign language.  I’ve gleaned a few from around the globe, though my best piece of foreign swearing advice came in an exchange I had with a fifty-something German woman whom I asked for directions when lost in Berlin last year.

Me: “Excuse me, do you know how I can get back to the Kurfurstendamm?”                                                                                                       

Her: “We don’t say the word c*** here.  It’s not a very nice word.”



  1. You just like saying that word in any language you can! That was no mistaken slip of the tongue!

  2. Don’t try and besmirch my reputation! I didn’t say anything, that was her actual response to me asking for directions.

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