The Right Way to Travel
I’ve thought a lot about the right way to travel, and have essentially come to the conclusion that the right way to travel is however you want to travel. While we like to travel deeper, explore cultures and culinary scenes, and search out lesser-known destinations like Greenland and Oman, that’s just us. If you want to go to Paris solely to take a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, or if you prefer cruises and all-inclusive beach resorts to having dinner with locals, great. You’re the one choosing how to spend your travel dollars, and you should book the trips that will make you happiest. No one should tell you that your way of traveling is wrong.
Having said that, the thing that annoys me about other travelers is when they don’t attempt to speak any of the local language wherever they go. Of course English-speakers have an advantage when traveling, given that English has become the de facto language of tourism around the world. If a Japanese tourist travels to Austria, English will likely be the language that he/she has in common with a shopkeeper. But that doesn’t mean that Americans should be lazy. We’ve emphasized to our kids that we want them to try – to at the very least learn to say “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, “good bye”, and “I would like” wherever we go, and ideally numbers as well, and actually use them. But we also want them to go farther than that and develop proficiency in another language or two.
We try to lead by example. My wife was proficient in French in college. I was able to hold conversations in German and Italian in college and graduate school, and I’ve studied French and Norwegian as well. But given that we don’t use these languages every day in California, we’ve gradually forgotten things. Words and phrases come back to us when we travel, but we want to do better.
Learning Languages in 2018
Several years ago we invested in Rosetta Stone language CDs in French and Italian and used them a little, but when we purchased new computers without CD drives, the language disks ended up gathering dust on our shelves. So when Rosetta Stone contacted me this summer about its language app, I agreed to a partnership immediately. My wife had been talking about strengthening her French. My oldest daughter has been wanting to learn French as well – it’s not taught at her school. And I want to become proficient in Italian again. This was the opportunity that we needed. Plus we were planning well over 100 hours on planes this summer, and would be waiting a while for checks in European restaurants, so this would give us a way to pass the time with long-term benefits.
Three months in, our experience has been excellent. I’ve worked on my language the most – mainly because I was on planes the most this summer, but also because I had the more immediate need. In August we were in Italy for two weeks and I wanted to communicate better. And in October I’ll be back again for a conference, and I’ll also be hiking 100+ kilometers through Tuscany. I want to get by in Italian all along my route.
I love how slowly the Rosetta Stone software takes me through learning Italian – and I mean that in a good way. It feels the same as if I were living in Italy, picking up the language by listening, learning and speaking. The past year my son had been playing with learning Danish through another language app and made fairly good progress, being told that he was 56% proficient. Then we went to Denmark and, well, he wasn’t. He could understand words here and there, and craft some basic sentences, but he was very much still in beginning mode – despite the app being optimistic about what he had learned. Rosetta Stone is the opposite. I’ll go through lessons for hours and then realize how much more there is to do. Rosetta Stone Italian has 20 units. Each unit has 29-31 lessons. Each lesson takes 5-10 minutes. That’s a lot of hours! But that’s what you need. I love the repetition and the progression, from basics to shopping and travel to dining and emergencies, so that you can get by fairly quickly, but then really delve into the vocabulary that you would need for real-world situations. And I love the pronunciation practice. I’ve always spoken Italian with an American accent. The software doesn’t let me get away with that! It’s making me better.
I’ll update this post as I study more and more. I’d love to get to the point where I can completely converse in Italian when in Italy, and never have to fall back on English. I feel like it’s a realistic goal since that will involve a limited vocabulary. I won’t need to know words associated with plumbing or space or safari animals, for example. But I already feel successful. In August we wanted to travel to Naples to visit an umbrella store that was highlighted in National Geographic Traveler. It was a holiday week, however, and we couldn’t be sure that the store would be open the day we were planning to visit. I emailed but received no response. So I telephoned and, reaching someone, asked: “Parla inglese?” Do you speak English? The response: no. OK, time to test my Italian! So I asked if they were going to be open this week and I was 95% confident that he said the store would be open for the first two days of the week and then closed. We bought train tickets to Naples accordingly, walked to the shop and…they were open! Some of my ability to quickly converse came from my earlier Italian knowledge, but through Rosetta Stone I had refreshed my memory on a lot of basics.
I particularly love that I can download lessons in advance and then use the Rosetta Stone app whenever I have free time. It’s far more productive than browsing Instagram when I’m waiting an hour at soccer practice! And it makes flights go by so much faster (note: you can turn off the pronunciation mode so that you’re not actually talking out loud when others are around).
Do you agree that it’s still important for English speakers to know other languages? How have you been making sure that your kids speak some of the local language when traveling?
Note: This post was sponsored by Rosetta Stone. All content is mine. I love their products!