Armed With Anglais, Inglese and a Phrasebook

Armed With Anglais, Inglese and a Phrasebook

We’re currently in the third and final country of our trip and we have, for the most part, successfully navigated without a lick of French or Italian, armed with only our English and a pocket phrasebook for each language.

Although it was a bit intimidating at first, being a monoglot (only speaking one language) in Europe is actually not as challenging as I had expected. I envy Benny for being a polyglot and may one day myself strive to do the same, but for this trip being a monoglot has worked out just fine.

A Universal Language?

Although English is not spoken universally worldwide, it’s surprisingly spoken at least a little bit by the majority of people. More so in the very touristy areas however also to an extent off the main touring path.

When first approaching people, whether in a restaurant or at a store, it’s about a 50/50 shot whether you’re greeted with a hello or a bonjour/buongiourno/ciao. It’s tough to say if they say hello to American looking people or just everyone because we’ve heard many people answer their phones with a hello and then proceed to speak in their native tongue.

2 Americans in Northern Paris

On this trip our first experience with a foreign language was when we rolled into Paris. We were met with a train station predominantly in French, maybe a bit more than I expected.

It wasn’t a big deal though since we knew where we were going, so we just started on our way. It wasn’t until we got into our area that we hit a bit of a snag.

First thing first, we were hungry so we found our way to a tiny cafe and with a bit of pointing and nodding while I waited outside of the cramped shop, Marla was able to successfully buy a couple sandwiches.

Then we moved onto the phone store. We wanted to get some info about our SIM card and if using the Internet would incur extra charges in Paris so we found an Orange store (no O2 in Paris) and asked for some help. The girl behind the counter spoke only a very tiny bit of English and us with our phrasebook and, as of yet, no known vocabulary beyond parlay vous anglais, were a bit out of luck.

She was able to direct us to a store where the guy “speaks really good English” though so we were on our way. He wasn’t bad but he still needed us to slow way down as we spoke just so he could understand (was funny to be on the other side of that situation). This had us thinking it was going to be quite challenging in Paris, but we were wrong.

The more we did, the more we were greeted with English, especially at the touristy destinations. We just happened to be staying in a part of Northern Paris with very few tourists. It was “real” Paris, not tourist Paris, but we actually still were met with mostly English aside from the first 2 experiences.

Having the phrasebooks is a big help and we actually planned on speaking a lot more in the local language but we quickly learned that, aside from greetings and kindnesses (thank you’s and pleases) most people wouldn’t even attempt to speak their language if they had any hint that we speak English.

The most interesting part though is that just after a few days immersed in French, we were both feeling semi comfortable with understanding language. We couldn’t carry on a conversation or understand everything someone would quickly say, but we could actually begin to understand little bits here and there when we’d hear them and fairly simply navigate around.

A New Home?

I personally love Paris. I could imagine living there, plus I really like French. It just seems like a pleasant language. Although a romance language like Italian and Spanish, French is the most unique in it’s sound. Italian sounds nearly identical to Spanish, which is a bit off-putting since it makes Italy feel very much like home with older buildings. I’m not discounting Italy at all, it’s very cool, however the sound of the language is just reminiscent of home.

And understanding a bit of Spanish, which is similar to an extent, doesn’t get me much further than the amount of French that I learned from 4 days in Paris. I just seem to prefer the distinct sounds of French over the somewhat run together sounds of Italian/Spanish. Not to knock them at all but I actually have the urge to learn French now, although learning it would prove nearly useless at home.

But They Don’t Speak London

I’m a fan of the London accent, it’s just fun. But I was a bit disappointed to find that the majority of Londoners seem to be transplants from somewhere else with fairly thick, distinctly un-London accents. (you may have noticed in the water post that our waitress was pronouncing still, steel, which is just like they say it here in Italy.

Although I was a bit disappointed not to hear the accent, it was interesting to see that the world, not just the US, is much more heterogeneous than I previously thought.

Anyway that’s all for now, au revoir! 🙂

Are you a monoglot (speak 1 language) or a polyglot (speak many languages)? Let us know in the comments.


4 responses to “Armed With Anglais, Inglese and a Phrasebook”

  1. James Chartrand - Men with Pens Avatar

    Coming from a province where French and English are the common languages (French being predominant), I can say that there are generally three situations that occur if you speak English:

    1. The other person will not speak English because they don’t know it or,
    2. The other person will deliberately refuse to speak English or,
    3. The other person will automatically switch to English – even if you continue to try to speak French.

    Number 1 happens, but not often. Most people know how to speak English fairly well (though the accents can be hilarious).

    Number 2 happens occasionally – not often but often enough that there’s a chance you’ll run into someone like that if you visit. Unfortunate, but there’s still anger floating around about language up here.

    Number 3 happens all the time – it’s actually quite common to hear an English person struggling along in French while the French person struggles along in English. From my observations and personal experience, this happens for two reasons:

    • Respect and good-naturedness
    • Because the French person *clearly* thinks he can do a better job than the other person. Heheh… we’re a proud people, eh? Not the least bit arrogant 😉

    On the matter of Spanish, my teen’s taking Spanish this year… and she’s finding it incredibly boring. It’s very similar to French and most can get the gist of written Spanish even without knowing the language.

    Personal story: Since we’re a bilingual family, it’s common to hear us switch languages in any given conversation, even mid sentence. “Ben, la, j’ai été au depanneur and it was far enough to get there. Tu parles d’un affaire. Of course, la caissière said it was no big deal – est folle, elle!”

    (None of that will make sense if you plug it in a translator, btw.)

    To note: Quebecois French is not at all like French from France. It’ll be interesting to hear how much difference you notice when you come visit!

    Oh, and thanks for Benny’s link. I woke up thinking I’d like to learn Gaelic, so it was funny to read your post, check out his link and find out he’s Irish, LOL

    1. Jeff Sarris Avatar

      On the bilingual family note, that’s exactly how it was when we were just in Tuscany where Marla (and they let me join in) took a cooking class. It was a family and since it was the 1 on 1 course they did it in their house. The father speaks very fluent English, his wife understands most, and his daughter speaks some (they’re working on it) and understands some.

      It was really fun, well the whole experience is for another post because that was amazing, but the bilingual part. His daughter would jump around with English at a fair pace, and then fire off a quick question to her dad as to what word to use, then go back to the English. Sounds like what it will be when we come up. Oh BTW, Marla said that we’re coming when it’s warm, no Canadian winters for her 🙂

      That’s interesting that Quebecois French is different. I am curious now to see if I can tell a difference. With the little bit I understand I won’t count on it, but you never know!

      So you woke up wanting to learn Gaelic before reading the post?! I just assumed it was a result of it. What a coincidence!

  2. Benny the Irish polyglot Avatar

    Thanks for connecting me and James!
    After this trip do polyglot-ify yourself!! 😀
    @James I <3 Quebecois French

    1. Jeff Sarris Avatar

      No problem dude, I’ve been following your journey for a while now. I’ve found it very inspirational that you knock out these language challenges left and right. I had never considered learning another language prior to finding your work, but now it’s something I want to do. Early summer I picked up your guide, hopefully I can kick the nerves and start dedicating time to practicing when I get back. 🙂