Chapter 9.3 Foreign Communication

Foreign Communication

(Written 2006)

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832)     German Playwright

Okay.  We just returned from a trip to France. I can speak decent Spanish but my French is elementary.  Thank goodness I received a great tip from a nice lady in a boutique where my wife was shopping  (I’m the carrier, remember). She told me to not say in French that “I do not speak French” … “Je ne parle pas de français.”  Instead say that “I am tying to speak French”… “J’essaie de parler du français.” Voila! (Wow! in English) … did the doors open.

Now when I would go into a shop (boulangerie, cheese, wine, grocery, souvenir), I would ask my prearranged question in French, and when they would answer in French, I would counter with Me pardonner, j‘essaie de parler du français.” All of a sudden, everyone became a French teacher … they are telling me the French name for strawberries, pastries, goat cheeses, batteries.

Not only that, but now I find out that most of them can speak some English … better English than my French! The French are very particular with proper language and the bottom line is that they don’t want to butcher up yours. So when I offered that I was trying to learn theirs, and was obviously a beginner, they were more comfortable in making an error in mine.

But that was not my language break-though.  I had an unusual experience at the B&B we stayed in southern Provence.  I happened downstairs when our host/chef was hanging pictures of a local artist named Carmen.  As I tried to open a small dialogue with the artist, my roughened French was once again weak and I made a comment in Spanish that I could speak Spanish better.

“To God I speak Spanish, to women Italian, to men French and to my horse German.”
Jason Chamberlain    American Clergyman

Well, it just so happened that Carmen was from Spain (name-clue). And she was so happy that I could speak some Spanish, that now she started hitting me with heavy duty Spanish.  Of course my Spanish is only adequate and her English was equally intermediate.  As we talked about things, I suddenly realized that I was speaking to her in broken Spanish and she was speaking to me in broken English.

“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.”
George Eliot (pen name of Mary Anne Evans) (1819-1880)     English Novelist

For most people the auditory part is the most difficult aspect of foreign language.  One can form what they want to say, but we tense up when we are trying to listen … we hear a word that doesn’t register and we tend to stay stuck on it while we miss the rest of what is being said.

So, my trick to communicating in foreign languages (English included) is to speak to a person in their language, with the qualification that you are “trying” to speak it.”  With any luck, they will respond to you speaking slower and more basic, or maybe even in your native language.  But if they respond to you in your language, don’t be trapped into thinking that they are fluent either.  They may give you the same dazed look if you start rattling off in English. Continue speaking to them in their language, mixing in words you don’t know in your own language.  There is nothing wrong with mixing languages if communication and a 150-relationship (albeit short) is the result.

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
Charlemagne (742-814)      First Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire


This page not available for translation.

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