Ever played the game ‘charades’? It can be a fun and exciting way to spend your time. You can look ridiculous in trying to explain a word or object to others that have no idea what you are attempting to describe, and without words it can be quite the task. Now pause, and picture yourself getting off a long red-eye flight. You are in a foreign country and you don’t know the language. Pointing to signs, maps, mouthing words, and facial expressions won’t get you far. No matter how many times you somehow willed your charades team on to victory in the past, it is now time to realize that the friendly local that you are trying to communicate with, by using made-up sign-language, probably doesn’t want to play the guessing game.
Speaking a language opens doors you could have never imagined beforehand, but if you don’t plan to learn the language, you will experience your travel destination with all those doors closed.
If you learn the language, stress of traveling can disappear as you can converse easily with those around you. Genuine travel experiences most often occur when you can prepare for a trip and get around with at least
sufficient knowledge of the language. I was able to witness both the prepared and the unprepared side of travel when my family traveled to France a few summers ago. We each traded turns looking like fools when we first landed because we needed help to catch a connecting train. However, the locals couldn’t interpret what we were trying to ask, nor could we understand their efforts to help us.
Luckily my younger sister, Nicole, stepped up the plate and took charge. She had been in French immersion classes since she was young, but we underestimated her language abilities compared to our greater travel experience. We learned that knowing the language takes precedence over age and experience when it comes to simple communication. No amount of confidence would’ve replaced the ease that Nicole had in conversing with the locals to find out essential information. She helped us navigate all the transit options, found out tips from the locals on when and how to best visit the attractions of the city and discovered top-notch spots to eat when
asking others for recommendations. I was personally grateful for Nicole when we ate at restaurants because none of the menus had pictures or translations. She even saved me from accidentally ordering a frog leg when all I wanted was a crepe with strawberry jam.
Paris, France is an incredible place to visit and is most likely on top of most travel bucket lists. However, it wouldn’t have been the same experience without Nicole and could have been even better for me personally if I had taken the time to learn some of the language on my own.
Once you get to your destination you don’t realize how little time you have to learn the language. Although you’re surrounded by locals, traveling Europe can be very fast paced because of all the tourist attractions. Save yourself the stress and learn to speak the language before you go so that you can have an amazing experience.
I’m sure we could have learned a few key necessities such as ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ and gotten away with some English words with a French accent, but what would we have done when people responded to us? Would we still have experienced the amazing sights, ended up finding a place with the 'best snails' according to the locals or taken in the city and language of love the way we did? Not a chance! Paris is a magical place. Make your travel to Paris equally as magical by learning some of the language. Learning to speak and understand French before you go can make the stresses of foreign travel melt away as well as melt the hearts of the locals with your speaking abilities.