Magic Phrases for Language Learners
When you start to learn a foreign language you will immediately find yourself looking for native speakers of that language to talk to. The trouble is that it can be very hard to tell where a person with an interesting accent is really from.
Don’t Talk to Swedes in German
If you make a mistake by talking in German to a person from Sweden, you won’t make any friends. Here’s what you should do when you hear an interesting accent.
If you are talking to someone in English who has an accent you should say, “I like your accent, where are you from?” This is much more likely to get you an honest answer (and make you a friend) than simply asking “Where are you from?”
What If You Hear a Foreign Language and You Aren’t Sure What it is?
If you overhear someone talking in a language and you aren’t sure what language it is, you might try saying (with a friendly look on your face) “I love languages, what language were you speaking?” If they understand you they probably will answer politely and you may make a new friend.
If you know a few words or a few compliments in that language, then now is the time to use them.
Using your disarming and complimentary phrases at the right time in the right way will add layer upon layer of new happiness to your life.
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Magic Phrases for language learners while traveling…
After living a bit more than a quarter of my 57 years outside the US (I’m fluent in European Portuguese and get by in Spanish, have forgotten most of my never-fluent French and Italian and ALL of my Korean and Japanese– despite two years of full immersion as a Peace Corps volunteer in S. Korea many years ago, and serving in Japan), I have come to the realization that there are three phrases that are absolutely necessary to learn in a foreign language before arriving in the country.
Hand gestures and pointing are okay, and with practice can be pretty communicative, but…
While you can point at what you want, there’s no gesture for “please”.
While you can smile, signal for a restaurant bill, etc., there’s no gesture for “thank you”.
And while there may be gestures for “Where’s the bathroom?”, you don’t want to make them in public!
I love it. This is so true. There is no gesture for please, thank you, and you don’t want to make the ones for “Where is the bathroom?”.
Thank you very much for this comment.
Brent Van Arsdell
So true. On my first visit to Norway I tried speaking German in a bar. There was an immediate deathly silence. However I was soon forgiven and everyone, even those nowhere near me, started to speak English to each other.
It’s definitely a good idea to try to figure out what language will be warmly received before you try to talk!
Do not let your age put you off. Some say ‘the younger the beettr and the older the beettr’.For an effective language learning, there are a lot of factors to be considered; above all it is the motivation to learn, your time available and the learning style directed by your teacher. Many argue that the younger you are, the beettr is to learn a foreign language. I agree with this but I would like you to think what lies beyond the age factor. It is the environment at young age, it is the free time and the ‘fresh mind’ young people have to commit to the study of a foreign language. This does not necessarily mean that mature learners or even people in their retirement can not have the above. Besides, language learning is a stir for the mind at all ages. Some studies suggest that mature learners have a higher level of problem solving and this helps them question and understand various grammatical and syntactical points beettr than a youngster. With my experience as a student of 4 foreign languages and my experience teaching mature students I can say that motivation is a key factor in language learning regardless the student’s age. People who are motivated to learn, they will commit and find it an enjoyable experience. Mature students are usually the ones who can identify what learning style is effective for them and they discuss it with the teacher. I admire those at the retirement age who have the ‘can do’ attitude in life. So, do not see a foreign language learning as purely a means of communication. It gives you far more than that.
Great response! Its true – anyone can learn anything at any age, motivation is a key driver in the solution. That’s why Language101.com aims to help students practice with enthusiasm. The more enthusiasm someone has for what they are doing the more fun and enjoyable it will be and everyone knows how much of a motivator enjoyment can be!
There are some interesting facts about human brain development that play into what you said as well. The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is based from a now proven awareness that at certain ages the brain goes through and ‘prunes‘ any unused neural pathways. This means that if, say, by the age of 14 a child has not used any of its language neural pathways the ability to learn language will be severely limited whereas whatever areas that child may have been developing (such as spatial navigating or hunting). Luckily language is one of the key focuses of most educational systems so those pathways are well formed by the time anyone gets to the age of dropping out of school. This makes teaching ‘old dogs’ language a certain possibility. People also learn to learn in different ways. That is why Language101.com was developed – the learning style of it’s developer was different than anything else available so a clear opportunity to implement current technology to a very good system was the next logical step.
A foreign language doesn’t just offer an opportunity to speak with another person – it offers an opportunity to understand how that foreign culture relates with the world. The manner in which people put symbols into words and string them together is fascinating to me. The way people associate emotion to words and portray those emotions to others is unique in every different language, even in some dialectal differences in very widespread cultures such as English speaking people use or Spanish speaking people use. Learning foreign languages opens our minds to being able to empathize with others in ways that were previously inaccessible to us simply because we can know where that foreign person is coming from and how they associate themselves with the circumstance they are engaged in. Language really does give us a LOT, right?
It is important to know how to say “please”, “thank you” and “Where is the bathroom?” indeed! I have a university degree in French. So you would think that I’d have no problem asking “Where’s the bathroom?”, right?
Well, during my last trip to Paris, I decided to tour the Quartier Latin. It was a hot day and I was being very mindful to keep hydrated. At one point, my bladder was so full, I was literally crossing my legs as I walked. I went into the nearest restaurant and asked a waiter, “Bonjour, monsieur. Prière de me dire où est la salle de bain?” (“Hi, could you please tell me where’s your bathroom?”) The waiter looked at me like I was crazy, coldly stating “Il n’y a pas de salle de bain ici.” (“There’s no bathroom here.”) Puzzled, I figured maybe they didn’t have one, odd as it may be. No worries, I’ll just go and ask at the restaurant next door.
Next door, I asked for the bathroom. Same “you’re weird” look, and same “no bathroom here” response. I thought it was strange to get the same reaction twice, but brushed it off as a fluke.
I decided to try my luck at the restaurant in the next block. Same weird look, same cold response. I was starting to get suspicious. Since I am African American but have no noticeable accent when I speak French (or so I am told), I am often mistaken for an African immigrant when I’m in France. Were the folks in this posh neighborhood showing me some of the not-so-pleasant behavior immigrants sometimes get in Paris? Regardless, I REALLY had to go. So I found a discreet alley… and relieved myself.
About half a block later–embarrassed, ashamed but decidedly more clear-headed–I realized why there was no “bathroom” at any of these places. If I wanted a place to relieve myself, I should have asked, “Où est la toilette?” (“Where’s the toilet?”). “Où est la salle de bain?” does mean “Where’s the bathroom”, in the in sense of “Where’s the room where I can take a bath or shower?”. The crazy looks on the waiters faces made sense, now. Most of us would probably do the same thing if someone came up to us in a restaurant and asked, “Where’s the shower room?”
So, the importance of knowing how to say “please”, “thank you” and “where is the bathroom?” in another language, correctly, is certainly not lost on me!
Thanks for sharing your story! It is true – just knowing how to say what is normal for you is only one half of the equation, knowing how to ask for what you want in the local custom or style is another altogether! Because of this Language101.com offers literal translations, word for word representations of what you are being taught in addition to the meaning translation so that the student can know what it is they are desiring to share as well.
If you had known that bathroom and shower room were two different things there would have been relief far earlier in your story, and an important lesson for others unavailable.
Thanks again for your honesty!
A “in-retrospect-only-amusing” related story: a great many years ago, I was a mere youth of 20 and one of many from a dozen different countries or more back in the early-mid Seventies who were on the road with a backpack and a Eurail Pass. I had good conversational Portuguese and what could technically be called conversational French– that is, I kept conversing in it, and often communicated, kinda.
Language at that level can lead to all sorts of interesting… ahem… adventures.
I’d just come into southern France, and got off the train at someplace rural and scenic and having a youth hostel. After being shown the ‘men’s side’ of the hostel (no shared dorms back then– usually only the dining room and a common room were coed), I asked the receptionniste where I could take a shower. The response was more complicated than I expected for “It’s down the hall on the left”, but I was pretty sure I’d gotten the important parts– that I needed my own towel, and it was down the hall on the left.
I start washing my longish hair when I hear someone coming in and turning on the shower next to mine. When I got the soap out of my eyes, I noted that my neighbor was a lovely young red-headed woman, dressed as I was… in soap. She greeted me with a smile and a “Bon jour!”.
At twenty, this was still more embarrassing than erotic, and I finished my shower rather quickly. I learned an important lesson, though.
When given instructions in another language, whether by a hotel desk clerk or a cop, being “pretty sure I’ve gotten the important parts” may be insufficient. That time, it simply led to the, um, exhibition of my ‘important parts’. If it had been road directions I could have ended up anywhere; had it been instructions on getting to the emergency room, I could have been dead.
I got off easy, with a life lesson, a good anecdote, and a charming memory.
Thanks for the story Father! Sure hope that young lady didn’t scar you too much!
I was in Romania last month building a playground for a Christian Orphanage and when it came time to leave at the end of the week, I wanted to tell a 12 year old girl “it has been a pleasure to know you.” I completed the Pimsleur Romanian level 1 (all that is available), and did not want to use the impersonal phrase “Nice to meet (know) you _ Mă bucur să vă cunosc,” so I tried to be creative and said “Un placere să vă cunosc.” I immediately got that stare of having said the wrong thing, so I asked a translator to explain what I had said to this young lady. He told me that I said “it is a pleasure to know you (sexually).”
I can laugh about it now but it sure was not funny then. I am fluent in most of the Latin based languages but, the same Latin based words sometimes have different meanings, even in the same language but in different parts of a country. I asked in a Torreón Mexico bus station “where is the bathroom? ¿dónde está el baño?” The reply was “why? Do you want to take a bath?” _ In Torreón it’s a sanitary “¿dónde está el sanitario?”
My suggestion is to enjoy learning new languages and accept the risks and mistakes and failures _ all successful people know that!
Thanks for the thoughtful and humorous sharing! Learning languages has to be fun so that we enjoy doing it, even in the mistakes.
I was born Dutch and learned to speak French German English Spanish Italian and even Finish, but I am having a hell of a time learning Polish. Do you have any suggestion as to how to approach that language? I can’t look up any word in a dictionary because of the conjugations of nouns and I have even a worse time pronouncing szcz and other hissing sounds.
You advice would be much asppreciated.
Learning foreign languages challenges everything we may already know about a foreign language. This is what makes them foreign. Learning to pronounce things is something that sometimes requires a tutor. A tutor is invaluable simply because they can show you things like where to put your tongue and where to start the sound resonating. They might even know how to suggest words that have adjoining syllables deomstrating the sound you desire. With listening only it becomes a guessing game. Where does the hiss start? How does it resonate? Is there a tongue placement that makes the sound stay right where it needs to in order to perfect the syllable? Youtube is excellent for this sometimes. In your case I was able to find this lovely example:
He raises the important awareness that there IS an English equivalent to the sound you are looking for:
In this case it seems like the sound you are looking for comes from a placement of the back of the tongue between the molar teeth with a slight pressing and the tongue loose to the bottom of the mouth. Then a hissing begins from that SHHH (be quiet) sound. Now gently raise the tip of the tongue to that same place where a D or trilled R goes or that CH from cheese is. Release rapidly only once. You should hear:
Bring the two sounds together until there is only one short hiss with a break of airflow in the middle.
For this example I performed a web search of:
‘youtube pronounce tutor polish szcz’
There were no youtube videos of value for this particular case so I dropped the ‘youtube’ and then many more forum based conversation threads appeared. The very first link from the very first search offered just what I needed to share in this message.
Congratulations on learning so many languages! Keep up the good work!
Try asking people who have an accent-Do you speak…..? and then put in the name of the language you are learning. Mostly I say the phrase in the language I am learning and I try to only ask people who look like they might be from that culture or where speaking some words in that language that I overheard.
That’s a great way to strike up a conversation and start practicing your new language skills right away. It’s also a lovely way to meet new people that speak languages other than the one you are studying to determine if you might want to pick up yet another language for use in your local area. It’s amazing how many European languages sound similar in many ways and take just a slightly different position so learning them can be quite simple.
Back to toilet terminology: When I went to China solo 30 years ago, I pre-learned just about 10 spoken words (plus numbers), but did get two key characters mastered: toilet and woman. There were no little icons on the doors, just the characters, and the two doors were often at opposite ends of giant sheds (trenches inside for the job at hand). Good characters to know.
Another time, in Spain, I needed to find the toilet in a fancy department store. I knew not to use the common baño, so I used servicio, a little higher class, and got only blank stares. Finally someone said, in Spanish, “Oh, you want the aseo.” New to me, and it got me there, but surely they knew the other words, even if one didn’t use them in that fancy store. Nobody taught me that in class.
Thanks for sharing. It can be very important to learn some of the variations on words, especially if you are going to be exploring different regions of a foreign culture. Just like moving from New York to Las Angeles will offer different expressions so will exploring Spain, Mexico and Peru! This is why Language101.com makes sure to be accurate for the most central region of a language. In this way you learn the bulk of the vocabulary for that region and can have the best hand forwards when asking for what you want!