Sunday, April 18, 2010

How Do You Say Please?

I’m in awe of people like our waitress in Florence.  She explained, in excellent English, that she was from Germany, in Italy to perfect her language skills while studying at the University.  She’d be there a few more months and then was going to Argentina to improve her Spanish.  Before much time passes she’ll be fluent in four languages.   Impressive.

Languages aren’t easy for me.  My French is good, and I know a bit of Italian  - the most basic tourist level.  (English is my mother tongue.)  Believing that when you travel it's essential to be able to be polite, I’ve learned (and forgotten) how to say please, thank you, hello and good-bye in four other languages. 

While it’s unlikely that I’ll reach my goal of speaking Mandarin or even much more Italian, I will continue to struggle to capture the basics to be able to communicate wherever I go.   It seems to brighten the experience.  People respond kindly.  Taxi drivers are friendly.  Shopkeepers helpful.  Greetings that open meetings are often a little more relaxed.  There's an excellent return on time invested. 

Fortunately it’s easier than ever to achieve that goal.  Not only are there classes to take but Amazon ( will provide books, software or MP3 files to guide your learning.  Easier still is to download an app to an I-phone or Blackberry.  It's possible to expand your vocabulary by signing up with Transparent Language (  and receive a new word every day.  Choose from Arabic or Irish, Japanese or Portuguese or the one of the other eleven languages available.  You'll then receive a new word, with definition, use in a sentence and correct pronunciation in your mailbox.  It’s like getting a gift every day.  

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