Do You Change How You Speak When You Travel?
5 Travel Bloggers Share Their Stories
Travel can change a lot about you. It can give you confidence. It can open your mind. It can expand your palate. I’ve been noticing in recent years that it also affects my language and how I think and speak.
When I travel to non-English countries I naturally find myself using simpler words and sentence structure and avoiding slang. When I spent five weeks in Korea in 2012, this became so routine that I even found myself doing it with my native English speaking then-boyfriend.
I’ve also noticed that sometimes I pick up words and phrases from abroad and bring them back home. If you’re ever around me and in need of some words of encouragement, don’t be surprised if I raise my fist and say “파이팅!” (“Fighting!”). I also came back from Spain in 2014 pronouncing Ibiza the way the Spaniards do… Ee-bee-tha.
Sometimes the words and phrases only come out to play when I’m in a particular country. When I go to London, my brain makes a seamless switch to British English. When I have rubbish (not trash or garbage), I go looking for a bin. I often wonder if there’s a lift around so I don’t have to haul my suitcase up over the stairs. Oh bloody hell, there isn’t.
I was wondering how other people deal with language when they travel and if they find themselves changing the way they speak while their travelling and also when they come home, so I asked a few bloggers to share.
When people listen to me talk for the first time I always see that puzzled look in their eyes trying to pick where I might be from. I’m from Australia originally, but after living in Hawaii for 3 years I lost my accent a little to blend in and get past having to repeat myself all the time – speaking the same language doesn’t mean you will be understood. Over these three years my accent went from a strong Australian accent to a soft Australian accent with Hawaiian and Californian slang terms blended in.
Fast forward and I have since moved to Italy. Many people speak English better than I speak Italian, so I end up speaking English a lot but it’s easier to speak slowly and in key words to be understood. It’s become so normal to speak in broken English that sometimes I forget to speak in full sentences when I am speaking to my family and other English speakers. I started out as an expat not being understood in my new home. Now with the accent changes, slang words I picked up and broken English, it’s harder for people at home to understand me!
Katie McIntosh – The Katie Show Blog
Learning some of a local language can help you have a more authentic and fun travel experience. And bringing some of those foreign words and phrases home can be a great way to relive your travels. We’ve been traveling together for over 11 years now. We’ve visited 49 countries together, but Germany holds a special place for us. We learned some German before our first trip there 9 years ago. We fell in love with the country and the language so kept up with it and can get by when we visit. More interestingly, German words and phrase have made their way into our everyday vernacular even when we’re home or traveling in other countries. From the romantic (“Ich liebe dich” instead of “I love you”) to the practical (“Rechts” and “Links” instead of “right” and “left”) to discussing our favorite condiment (“Senf” instead of “mustard”), there are things we definitely say more often in German than in English. They probably started out as words that amused us, but it has become just how to we speak to each other. It’s an easy way to carry our travel memories with us in our everyday lives.
Sarah and Justin – Travel Breathe Repeat
I’m bilingual. My mother tongue is Romanian and I’ve been speaking English since I was 9 (that’s almost 30 years!). I’ve started working as a translator since Uni years, then switched to working exclusively in English for the past 12 years. Which brings me to my English habits. I’ve studied British English all through school (Masters including) but, somehow, my work brought me closer to the US companies or companies that required me to write American English. Thanks to my work calls I also caught a US (particularly NY) accent pretty fast. Suffice to be asked in London, twice, if I was from New York. Oh my!
I find myself defaulting to US English (and accent) pretty much everywhere.
That was until this May when I traveled to Greece. The island of Ios is filled with British and Irish ex-pats. What do you know? I switched, instantly, to British English. I even got asked if I have ever lived in the UK. Score!
I seem to adjust to the company I am in. I travel with my husband and he is a British English fan. But that doesn’t influence me. What does is the company we keep while traveling. If the people we hang out with speak US English, I do the same, if they are British English people, I adjust.
I also tend to use basic language when I am in a country where English isn’t really spoken much (eg. Hungary, Italy), whereas if I go somewhere where they speak a lot of English, I get “fancy”.
Cris Puscas – Looknwalk
My boyfriend and I travel on Working holidays, first a year in Canada, and more recently in New Zealand. We have come to discover that when it comes to accents, we’re quite different. While he very quickly picks up a clear twang of the country we visit, I determinedly keep my (slightly posh) English accent. I pick up terms and sayings, but my accent stays entirely intact (much to some of my ex-colleagues amusement, who loved getting me to read things in the most British accent I could muster!)
He on the other hand is great at picking up the accent, and at the end of both of our Working Holidays he had a distinctive twang, which it took a few months to lose again Even now, every now and again I hear a little kiwi in his tone, which I love.
Rachel Brown – Rachel On Route
I always make these grand plans to study the basics of the local language before I take a trip abroad, but it always gets put off. Something is inevitably more important, until it’s not. Plopped down in a new country, I’m back in my accidental immersion class. I spend the first day or two of my trip nailing down hello and thank you, moving the words around in my mouth like bad karaoke. Sometimes I mutter local words to myself over and over again without realizing, trying to figure out how to shape it so that it sits at the right tone. When I’m in restaurants and markets and taxis, I listen for the common mistakes people make in English, and try to build simpler questions around that; English should not be a burden of perfection for anyone. No matter how little I had prepared beforehand, all I want in those moments is to fit in. By the time I leave that country, I’m using the small phrases I’ve acquired, combined with basic English and the universal language of whole-body gestures. Then scrub, rinse, and repeat in the next nation. Traveling alone, my “communication” has become a form of spoken sign language.
Max Gandy – Dame Cacao