what language barrier

china chattingExpress reader Rosemary Gillam is always up for a challenge when it comes to learning some of the local language – and her rewards are wonderful real life experiences around the world…

“Some of the places that I have had the good fortune to visit so far I have had fun looking up the common words needed to get by on the internet.  I already knew hello and goodbye in French when I visited New Caledonia on my first overseas trip.  I found it very difficult to order a salad in the native quarter of Noumea, pointing to the menu at the item I was trying to buy finally got a smile form the proprietor and a plate of asparagus for lunch.  I guess this must have been what I was asking for in such bad French that there was no comprehension until my finger did the talking.

Bulla was the word required for my next trip.  I learnt this before I went to the Fiji Tourist Board in Sydney.  This opening gambit helped me get a ton of information on local attractions that would not normally have been supplied.  Every where I went on that trip and a subsequent one I usually got a big grin and a very loud bulla vinaka in response.

The next trip I found a web site that had the written word, translation and pronunciation of common words required in Thailand .  I could say hello, goodbye, thankyou, water, mother (she was travelling with me on those trips) and several other easy words.  Once there, every time I tried to say something (always pronounced extremely badly) I was corrected and given more words to remember.  A handy one I learnt prior to arriving in Thailand was nit noi (a little bit) – when anyone thought that I knew the language they always said more in Thai that I couldn’t understand.  I would hold my thumb and forefinger close together and laughingly say nit noi.  This would get the Thai laughing and offering another word for me to remember.  Tour guides also give you valuable words – mai chai.  I know it meant no (mai) but the combination of the two words stopped street hawkers in their tracks – no one hassled us once word got around that we knew this phrase.   When people looked at my mother and me she would say in Thai that I was her daughter (luk sow).  The looks of astonishment and laughter because we knew the words mother and daughter in their language made our trips memorable.

Another word I found on the internet was mai pen rai (my pen rye).  All Australians need to know this when travelling in Thailand.  Waiting for the boat that is taking its time to leave – mai pen rai.  Hoping the bus you have been shuffled onto is the one you should be on – mai pen rai.  When the luggage disappears out of your sight into the bowels of a ferry what can you do but shrug and say mai pen rai.  On a trip to Koh Phi Phi in a longtail boat with waves bucketing in your face from a 2 metre swell and laughingly shaking fists at the boatman – mai pen rai.  The taxi driver asking you whether you want to go on the tollway to get back to the motel quickly and only guessing that’s what he is asking – mai pen rai.  He thought we knew more Thai and started asking us questions in his language – nit noi came in handy as a response.

There is also a great delight in teaching your own foreign language to Thai waiters who have been introduced to Australian words – he already knew a lot of the common Aussie slang but ‘gdaymateowyagoindidjaaveagoodweegend‘ really puzzled the waiter until I explained in single words what I had said.  After that he was a most attentive waiter from the moment we walked into the restaurant and asked us that very question.

Even New Zealand presents great challenges in the language barrier.  I found myself looking blankly at shopkeepers when told the cost of my purchases.  Six dollars and sixty cents puts a whole new meaning on life!

I have found that travelling to a country where there is a language difference makes the trip a totally different experience to travelling in your own country.  I can’t say that I would remember most of the words I learnt on any of my trips except for those that created an unusual memory as I have described.  I hope that I will be able to travel to many more countries and experience the joy of making friends despite the barrier of different languages.”

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Hehehe!!! One challenge I faced was asking for anti-inflammatories (for period pain) at a Pharmacy in Hue (Vietnam).

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