Travel language for dummies; or, How to communicate anywhere

One potentially major barrier for novice travelers is the issue of language. Many first-timers solve that problem by first visiting places where English is more or less spoken as it is in the U.S.

Blakeney, U.K., where crisps are chips and chips are French fries. (Image via wikipedia)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 2, 2016 – Travel is contagious. For some it takes longer than others to become afflicted with the malady. But once bitten by the parasite of wanderlust, the disease is often incurable.

One potentially major barrier for novice travelers is language. Many first-timers solve that problem by initially visiting places where English is more or less spoken as it is as home.

True, there can be bumps along the way such as “chips” for French fries, “crisps” for potato chips, a “lift” for an elevator or “shagging” which means making love rather than a popular dance in the southern region of the United States.

It’s all part of a traveler’s initiation into the world of global communication and understanding. For example, Sussex in England means “the place of the South Saxons.” Similarly Essex is “East Saxony” and Wessex is “West Saxony.”

Norfolk is the “place of the North Folk” while Suffolk is the same in the south.

Many visitors enjoy demonstrating newfound linguistic expertise after a trip to the U.K. by writing with historical flair. This can be accomplished by adding a few specific letters to certain words. Thus, when the letter “E” is added to the end of a word such as “olde” it becomes far more impressive than the version we use today. Add the word “ye” to front of it to create “ye olde” and now you have really traveled back in time.

The letter “u,” or reversing the letters “ER” are also useful for writing about travel to Great Britain. The word “color” becomes British by turning it into “colour.” The same is true of “labour” and “favour.”

When going to the movies, make it seem more elegant to do so by going to the “theatre” rather than the “theater.” This also works with “shopping centre” instead of “the mall.”

Once the primary fear of language is overcome, some Americans may be emboldened when the begin their first trip to the continent. All those years of high school Spanish rapidly disappear when travelers realize they are fluent simply by putting the word “el” in front of a noun and adding “o” to the end.

At the Alhambra in Spain, just add "el" before a noun and an "O" at the end (wikipedia)
At the Alhambra in Spain, just add “el” before a noun and an “O” at the end. (Wikipedia)

Consequently, a bank becomes “el banko” and food is now “el foodo.”

This also works for Italian by adding “I” or “A” combined with a variety of hand gestures. Note that the more movement one uses, the greater the fluency.

In Switzerland you can practice three languages at once; German, Italian and French. France, on the other hand, has no time for such nuances.

Advanced students soon realize that eliminating the articles “a,” “an” and “the” is also advantageous when trying to master bilingual skills by using broken English as a substitute for virtually any other language in the world. Never use past tense and somehow you are immediately understood. For example you could say “He jump in lake,” rather than the proper usage.

You can say a lot in Italy by using "I" and "A" while making gestures (wikipedia)
You can say a lot in Italy by using “I” and “A” while making gestures (Wikipedia).

Once indoctrinated into basic words and phrases, travelers often establish a bucket list of global attractions that have, until now, been little more than distant fantasies: Notre Dame, the Acropolis, the Kremlin, et al.

Unfortunately, when globetrotters reach this level of expertise, that may open the gate to one of travel’s great paradoxes as well as disappointments.

When most people speak of Notre Dame, they think of the great cathedral in Paris made famous by Victor Hugo’s hunchback. The problem lies in the fact that “Notre Dame” in French means “Our Lady” and refers to the Virgin Mary. Therefore, there are hundreds of Notre Dames around the world, including a famous university in the United States.

In Switzerland you can practice three languages in one country (wikipedia)
In Switzerland you can practice three languages in one country (Wikipedia). “Polis” in Greek means “the highest spot in a city.” In other words, Greece has many “acropoli” not just the one where the Parthenon looks down upon Athens.

It’s no different with Kremlin. A “kremlin” in Russia is a “major fortification” so there are countless “kremlins” throughout the country.

“Alt Stadt” in German sounds exotic, but it simply means “Old Town.” In German, “ober” means “over” and “gau” means “region of.” Therefore the village of Oberammergau means nothing more than the “region over the River Ammer.”

The Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping avenues of the world, runs directly from the railway station in Zurich, Switzerland, to the lake. When translated, however, Bahnhofstrasse merely means “train station street.”

Here’s a tip for inexperienced travelers: Never return from Florence and say you saw the “Ponte Vecchio Bridge.” “Ponte” is Italian for “bridge” so what you just said is “I saw the Old Bridge Bridge.”

Bay windows in Germany where a "journey" is a "fahrt" 9WIKIPEDIA)
Bay windows in Germany, where a “journey” is a “fahrt” (Wikipedia)

Furthermore, when you realize that Ponte Vecchio only means “Old Bridge” it tends to lose a bit of its romance.

Adding to the confusion, terms sometimes seem to make no sense at all. The Pont Neuf, or “New Bridge,” in Paris is actually the oldest bridge still standing along the River Seine.

As your travels unfold, be brave and venture into the challenging world of language, no matter how daunting. As the Germans would say, “gute fahrt” or “good journey.”

So may all your “fahrts” this year be good ones.


Contact Bob at Google+

About the author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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