Even in an age of online Courses or Google Translate nothing beats travelling and learning a new language among the people who speak it.
I leaned in towards the girl of my dreams and, in a low, sexy voice, whispered the German phrase my mates had recently taught me. “Mein Luftcushion ist voller igle.” If you speak German, by now I’d imagine you are laughing as hard as that girl that night. My mates said those words were how to ask her out. In fact I had just told her that my hovercraft was full of hedgehogs.
When you’re doing something as important as asking a girl out in her native language, I guess the first advice I can give is not to ask your mates, when you’ve all been drinking, to tell you what to say. Learning German from these guys was tough. The first meal I ordered in German, on their advice, was an ashtray and chips.
The Basics To Speak In Any Language
Soon, I had grasped the principles of what I called ‘Beer Deutsche’ and if you’re a beer drinking fool like me, these principles will get you started in any language…
- Learn to say ‘Beer’
- Learn to count to 10
- Learn to say; small, medium and large
Aspiring linguists can take these principles on to the ‘advanced’ stage.
- Learn to say, “Put it on his bill.”
- Learn to ask for chicken
- Learn the words for ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ before you go for a pee. (Quite important)
Learn By Observing
At times you can learn useful words and phrases from places such as airports or other international transport hubs where things are announced or printed in the local language and in English. This is how I learnt to say, “Mind your step,” and, “This toilet flushes automatically” in Dutch.
Learn Necessary Phrases
It can be helpful to learn phrases associated with your activity when travelling abroad. As a not so fit mountain trekker I can now say, “Slowly, slowly” in Nepali, Kiswahili and Arabic. What I really need to learn before the next time I head to the Himalayas in Spring 2021 is to learn, “Can you show me how to get back to Nepal?” in Mandarin Chinese.
Whilst in a night club in the Philippines some of the local ladies taught me how to say, “I am handsome.” “You are beautiful.” and “I love you.” in Tagalog (National language of the Philippines). This I found to be very helpful.
Learn By Drinking Beer
My most successful conversation with someone who couldn’t speak English came about in the Paulander Tent at the Munich Beer Festival 1996. I arrived unplanned, unannounced and severely hungover off a slow train from Frankfurt and drifted into the beer tent. As I wandered the packed tent looking for a seat I soon came to realize that most people who were sitting on them had booked the seat they were on since somewhere close to birth. Only having heard that the Munich Beerfest was on last night, my chances of getting a seat looked slimmer than I was.
Finally some elderly gentleman indicated for me to sit beside him. He had several generations of family around him at the table and he adopted me as his friend. Very quickly we established that I couldn’t speak much German and he couldn’t speak much English. I bought him a beer, we clinked steins and decided to muddle through. Though very awkward at first, after 3 litres of strong German Beer we were involved in a heavy conversation about world football and the relative merits of Glasgow Celtic and Bayern Munchen. Thing is, to this day, I couldn’t tell you which language we were talking in but it was a great night.
Teach Your Own Language
Of course the fun in learning language and culture is in the exchange of the same. If you’re learning a language, return the favour in kind. As a Scottish person, there are many traits of my dialect of the English Language that can be fun to share with others. For example, I taught the ladies in the Philippines the special way in which a Scottish person greets his friend in England. So, to all my English friends out there, if you find yourself in the Pampanga Region of Luzon Island in the Philippines and a young lady greets you with, “Away ya wee scunner!” tell them ‘Bob’ says hi.