Learning the language

As I mentioned before, I make a point to learn the local language, or at least know a few greetings of a place before I go. It's a shame that some of the xenophobic Americans who scoff at people not speaking English in the USA are the same who travel abroad and expect to skirt by with English.

However, as I also mentioned, I have mostly traveled to primarily English- and Spanish-speaking countries. I've gone to Portugal, Switzerland and France, which each proved their own challenges.

In Portugal, I found myself listening to and mostly comprehending the Portuguese, but responding in Spanish. This surprisingly was pretty effective. In Switzerland, I was able to get by with English, as the Swiss are the most impressively educated people when it comes to languages. Sure does help when you have four national languages (French, German, Romansh, Italian) but might as well be five, since pretty much everyone spoke English. Well, except for that elderly couple we encountered on a dirt road in a small Swiss town, who didn't really understand that we were looking for a street named after our ancestors, even after we repeatedly just pointed to the road and said "WEINMANNSTRAUSS!" Ha. But we found it just as we were about to give up.

In France, I was visiting the Basque region, which was a language I fortunately was learning in my studies in Spain, as the Basque region stretches between France and Spain. That was where I had the funniest language-related stories, which is interesting since the trip to the town of Biarritz only lasted for one day. When we got off the train, we communicate in English to a young grade-school girl and her little brother (who didn't know English, Spanish or Basque) regarding how to get to the center of town, since we were off of our map's limits. Our saving grace was when she started gesturing for a "fountain" then pointing to the map. That was all we needed, and when we wandered down the suburban road, we finally came across a fountain and we had a mini celebration. We were literally on the map!

When ordering lunch, I decided I'd like an omelette. The waiter kindly offered to teach me how to order it in French. However, it was more "try ordering this in French." I knew very very little, but then realized I knew so much.
Me: Omelette?
Waiter: Omelette...est francais.
Me: With onions?
Waiter: Shallots.
Me: Shallots is French?!
Waiter: Oui!
Me: And cheese?
Waiter: Fromage.
I knew all three words, without realizing they were French...well, except the last one. I could have easily ordered my own meal if I had a little more faith in myself.

Luckily, all of these situations where I'd been struggling with the language were safe environments. I was with other people, or the situations weren't dire (well, except I was really hungry for that omelette).

I think it's important to anticipate these needs before travel, because relying completely on English can get you into some unexpected or sometimes dangerous situations.

I have been wanting to learn Russian for the longest time, mostly in part to my obsession with the false and romanticized story of Anastasia for children, as well as the show The Americans.  I want to be able to speak the language that many of my suburban neighbors speak, and that such a large country speaks, especially so I can visit it! But DuoLingo doesn't have it available just yet.  DuoLingo just updated their site and now has Russian in beta testing! I'm getting on that right now.

The countries I am visiting all have unique languages, but Russian would at least help in some.

The languages by country, according to Wikipedia...

Turkmenistan - Turkmen (official), Russian (Inter-ethnic)
Uzbekistan - Uzbek (official), Karakalpak (regional)
Tajikistan - Tajik, related to Persian (official), Russian (regional)
Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyz (national), Russian (official)
Kazakhstan - Kazakh (state), Russian (official)

Now that I'm going to the Eastern world and can't completely rely on hand gestures that may or may not be deemed offensive, I need something more concrete. So I need to get to learning Russian! I know I'll be able to learn a few things on DuoLingo before I go.

But just for safety's sake, I recently purchased a book with lots of pictures that I can point to when in doubt.