Nonverbal communication in England
HAVING LEARNED ONLY a smattering of French in school, in most of the countries I have traveled there has been a language gap between me and the natives. Fortunately for travelers and the human race, thought is independent of language.Therefore the shared experience of being human allows us to communicate many basic aspects of being human.
Indeed it is not only possible but relatively easy to navigate other countries with little or no command of the local language. Furthermore, English is the international language. Around the world when an Italian meets a Dane they usually communicate in English since it is probably the language they both speak best. In Asia, with over twenty major languages, English is used for business, tourism, and air-traffic control. English is also the lingua-franca for many African countries. Thus we monolingual Americans have lucked-out.
Because Americans come from a huge country where English is spoken from one end to the other, we often have more fear than other nationalities about not being able to communicate. Most countries are far smaller than ours, and their people are more comfortable traveling in places where they don't speak the native tongue. They are also more adapted to dealing with visitors who don't speak their language.
Few travel backpackers in Poland (and there are many) speak any Polish; few in Hungary speak the unusual language of Hungarian; and in Tanzania not more than one backpacker in twenty before arrival knows much more than one word of Swahili. (Which would probably be "jambo, " which passes for "hello, " "goodbye, " "good day, " and "Yes, I will have some chicken soup, thank you.") So don't let a perceived lack of language skills be a barrier to international travel.
English is widely known in much of Europe. Indeed many Europeans have at least some facility with many languages. The first Belgian truck driver I met spoke five languages well, which I later discovered was about average for Belgian truck drivers.
But that doesn't mean you should immediately begin babbling in English when you approach someone. First politely ask their pardon, and then humbly if they speak English, preferably in their language. Since it's likely you often won't know more than one or two words of the native tongue, you'll get plenty of practice with "humbly." As one hilarious German shot back to my query, "While you were in the back of finger-painting class shooting spitballs, I was learning Italian, Spanish, French, and yes, a little English!"
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