A Traveler’s Second Language
There was a great column by Daisann McLane in National Georgraphic Traveler this month about the value of speaking a second language. No matter where you are, it gives you another option for communication. She argues that when people must communicate in neutral language (in her case, an American and Japanese woman speaking Spanish together), they are more conscientious of their pronounciation and use more standard, less slangy vocabulary. This made me think of my own experience communicating in a third language.
The summer I spent in Florence, I lived in a convent which rented half of its rooms to travelers and students like me. It was gorgeous place with cool stone floors and a peaceful inner garden, all hidden just down the street from the Duomo. My room even had a 19th century fresco of angels on the ceiling! The sisters were very kind and would join the guests for breakfast. The only problem was that I barely spoke Italian so I limited to “Sì, grazie suora”. Unless the sisters wanted to sell me a train ticket, I didn’t really know what to say. But I was in luck; this was a French religious order so they all knew some French! My four years of high school French came in pretty handy.
What a difference a little communication makes. It was so much more fun to chat with the sisters, ask them what they were working on and answer their questions about what I had done each day. As much as I love seeing art and scenery when I travel, it makes for a much richer experience if you can actually talk with locals.
(On a side note, my French is still way better than my Italian.)