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Speaking in Other Languages

By Anna Lynn Sibal

If you are thinking of traveling to other countries, you may not find it too difficult to find someone to talk to if English is the only language that you know how to speak. English has become the lingua franca in the entire world, due largely to the emergence of the United States and the United Kingdom as dominant world powers, not to mention the contribution of technology to the world's shrinking into what is generally known as the global village. English has become an undisputed international medium, and wherever one goes, one can always find someone who can speak in English.

However, being a native speaker of English does not give one the right to act what is disparagingly called 'the ugly American' in most countries outside the United States. The ugly American may come in many guises, but one of his prominent traits is speaking slangy, hard-to-understand English while visiting a foreign country, expecting to be fully understood by any person he is speaking to even if it is clear that the person does not speak fluent English.

English is indeed the world's lingua franca, but that does not mean that everyone speaks it. There are countries where English is not yet widely spoken. There are also countries where people would refuse to speak with tourists who consider learning a few phrases of the language native to the country they are visiting to be beneath them, even if English is widely spoken there.

If you are thinking of traveling to another country, you may find it very useful to learn a few key phrases of the language native to the country you are planning to visit. As a tourist, committing a faux pas in the country you are visiting is pretty inevitable, but total embarrassment could be avoided if you know even just a little of the language. This is aside from the fact that knowing a few key phrases can be very handy in case you get lost.

You do not have to attend a crash course in a language school to learn the key phrases that you need, but you may consider doing so if you are staying for a prolonged period at the country you are traveling to, or if you truly want to gain an appreciation of the country you are visiting. For the key phrases, knowing how to say Thank you, Please, Excuse me, Can you speak English? can go a long way in helping you get around during your trip.

Another thing that can help you get your way around the place you are visiting, not just around a possible language barrier, is to bring a map, a travel guide and a phrase book with you. In addition, always have the address of the place you are staying in at hand. In this way, in case you get lost, you will not have much of a problem asking around to find your way back.

If you do find yourself faced with the necessity of asking around and your knowledge of the local language fails you, speak English as simply and as plainly as you can. This will make it easier for you to be understood. Also, locals are actually sympathetic to the plight of tourists who find it difficult to speak their native language but try to speak in it nonetheless. To make things easier, find someone who appears to be young and well-educated and approach him with your questions. It is highly likely that he is a fluent English speaker.

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