Brushing up on your high school French or learning a few words of Zulu before your trip can win you smiles and goodwill.
Jason Teshuba was in South Africa not long ago when he decided to practice his Zulu. He didn’t know much, just a few words and phrases like thank you and hello.
“I’d learned a little Zulu, and I was practicing. The busboy came out, and I said a few words, and he lit up,” Teshuba says. “A couple days later we came back to the restaurant, and people said, ‘Hey your friend is looking for you.’ It was the busboy, and he gave me a hug.”
That’s the power that language has for travelers.
“Even learning a little bit of another language opens up a whole new opportunity to connect with other people in a deep way,” says Teshuba, CEO of Mango Languages, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based language learning software company. “I truly believe that even if you know just a little bit, you can get the motivation to take it to the next level. And you can get a smile in the country you are going to.”
If you are headed abroad on a trip in 2014, meet your hosts halfway by learning words or phrases in their language, even if you are not fluent.
Mango is one way — and it’s free. Offered through local libraries, schools, universities and corporations, it has programs for 64 different languages, from Armenian to Punjabi. Check www.findmango.com to see if your local library has Mango, which you can access at home or on a mobile device.
The most popular languages for Americans to study are English (many speak it as a second language and want to improve), Spanish, French, Italian, German, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.
Mango focuses mostly on conversational language and pronunciation. It also has a child’s program called Little Pim and a second adult program, Mango Premiere, which uses film dialogue to teach learners while they are watching movies from around the world.
“We have a lot of Mango employees from other countries, and a lot of them said the way they learned English was by watching TV and movies,” Teshuba says. “So we tested it and got great feedback. These movies were made for the native speaker, not for the learner. They use the real language. It’s not artificial simplified language. And there are a lot of cultural clues in the movies.” Their first dual subtitle movie? The Chinese-made comedy “Kung Fu Dunk,” which you can see for free.
Teshuba is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew and Greek. He has been learning Chinese for five years and is still pursuing fluency. In addition, “in five to 10 other languages I can get smiles,” he says. “Even if they are laughing at me.”
What about a language you once learned and have mostly forgotten?
How well you remember a language over time, he says, “depends on how well-ingrained it was to begin with. If it’s a new language, you will start forgetting it very quickly if you don’t use it. The learning curve is very steep at the start.”
On the other hand, you should be able to refresh your high school Spanish or French so it comes back to you well enough to gain points with native speakers abroad. All it takes is a little motivation to study.
Now, as they say in Zulu, hamba kahle, goodbye.