Did you know that the Turkish word for turkey is hindi? The big gobbler is originally from the Americas or Indies, which caused the naming confusion with India. But in English we call the birds turkeys because they were introduced to Europeans by the Turks! If you think that’s confusing, then spare a thought for Kate Drummond when she tried to talk Turkey…
“You step foot in a new country eager to learn the local language – it’s simple right? Well, arriving in Turkey and trying to get the hang of the food, the customs and the history (wow, there were 3 great empires here and heaps of important sub cultures)… my language learning took a back seat! But then I started travelling and realised that a handful of Turkish words was very necessary!
Even if a language is tricky to learn, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying. In John Kirk’s case his cocky attempt at Vietnamese did lead him down the wrong path initially, but it was smiles all round when he discovered that pho doesn’t always mean noodle soup…
“If you’ve ever tried to speak Vietnamese, then you’d know it is not an easy language to learn. It is a tonal language and there are six tones for each syllable. Change the tone and the meaning of the word changes. I found this out with hilarious results on my second trip to Hanoi.
A simple Ni Hao, Hola, Namaste or Mehaba could change your trip. Learning a little of a country’s local language before you visit is one of Intrepid’s Top 12 Responsible Travel Tips. Even an easy hello or thank you in the local lingo will open up a whole new world and as Intrepid’s Amy Bolger explains, people will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to learn about their culture…
“Whilst attempts to pronounce something in another language can often leave the locals giggling, it is always well received and quite often has its advantages. A little smile and Ni Hao to a family on a 14-hour train ride across China opened up a whole new world of Chinese food for me – I was offered (quite insistently) an array of local cuisine they had packed for the long journey – they were obviously seasoned train travellers and I tasted delicacies that I would have otherwise never discovered. No 2-minute noodles in sight in our cabin!
Trying to learn enough of the local language to help you get around can really be a challenge for your comfort zone. What’s more unnerving than being warned that a slight mispronunciation can be the difference between saying “thank you” and swearing profusely? But locals really appreciate visitors making an attempt to use their language and will often help with a little coaching, as John Kirk discovered in Vietnam…
“Our group had some time to chill out in Nha Trang, so I decided to hire a bike and explore the surrounding countryside. It was a fantastic way to take in the local sights, but being a scorching hot day I took a break under the shade of a large tree next to the railway line to Ho Chi Minh City. Nearby was a railway crossing attendant’s hut. Its occupant was having a blissful siesta, obviously not expecting either trains or guests, as he had shed most of his uniform in the heat!
Living and working in Cambodia and trying to learn the local language has brought many challenges and some embarrassing moments for Intrepid’s Jo Crisp. But the effort has been well worth it…
“When I started as a new manager with Intrepid in Cambodia I thought the key to success was learning the language. So I bought a Khmer English dictionary and practiced key phrases when ever I got the chance. Remork (motorcycle rickshaw) and taxi drivers, friends and work colleagues, they all suffered as I mangled the ancient Khmer language. What I thought was a good representation of chh’nung – delicious – was in fact a badly pronounced version of chanung – cooking pot. Meanwhile everyone must have been a little confused when I announced that I had a sore snake – rather than stomach ache.
Just because a country has the same official language, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll understand everything that is said. Intrepid’s Kim Bowden helps us untangle the local lingo in New Zealand…
“New Zealand slang has developed over time from such a diverse mixture of backgrounds that it is sometimes difficult to establish exactly which colloquialisms are originally from New Zealand! However, be assured that all of these listed words and phrases are used with regularity throughout New Zealand. Hopefully they will help give you a better understanding of what your Kiwi mates are really trying to tell ya!…
‘Cheers’ is the most common expression when drinking in New Zealand, but you could also hear ‘Chur bro’ or even ‘Cheers cuz’. Pronouncing the place names is more of a challenge, but Intrepid’s resident Kiwi, Alison Mead, comes to our aid with some handy talking tips…
“Early colonists to New Zealand often experienced difficulty in mastering the local Maori place names. As a result, many names have passed into current usage in corrupt forms, such as Amuri (Haumuri), Petone (Pito-one), Mangahao (Mangahou), and ‘The Nunneries’ (Te Nganaire).
Trying to not get tongue-tied around Onehunga – an Auckland suburb, Mt Ngaruahoe – North Island Mountain or Whakatane – a gorgeous town in the Bay of Plenty, can be tough, but with such a strong Maori cultural history it is worth taking the time to learn the correct pronunciation, or you may get a giggle or two from a local Kiwi. Onehunga, often thought to be one (as in the number) hunga, should be said ‘o nee hunga’. Anything with a “Wh” at the start is an “f” sound, so Whakatane say ‘faka tar nay’.
Express 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.
“Travelling with my parents, they’ve always impressed upon me respect for other cultures and how learning some words in their language can be fun and show respect.
So – at age 11 – I learnt ‘calimera’ meant good morning in Greek, for when we were travelling through some of the islands there.
So one morning, I walked along a beach at the front of our hotel, picking up shells and nodding my head at passers-by and calling them ‘squid’ (calamari) instead. *nod* Squid! *nod* Squid!
To this day I love learning bits and pieces of the language when we travel – I love seeing people’s faces light up in delight that you have taken the time and care.” Kirsten Jackes, Intrepid Express reader.