Chloe, our Direction of Promotions, kindly lent me some words on what it is like to travel where English is not the dominant language. While MEL is a club based around those who have come to Canada and are learning English, Chloe reminded me that everyone, depending on where they are, becomes a language learner at some point in their life. The struggles that come with communication are ubiquitous and take persistence and effort (and in Chloe’s case, some adventurous and goodnatured spirit) to overcome.
These questions only briefly touched on Chloe’s wide variety of experiences but she shared some very interesting anecdotes. I know that I would love to hear more, perhaps in a later blog post (hint hint Chloe, if you’re interested!).
Where have you travelled?
Chloe: I have travelled to several different locations, including Shanghai, China; Hong Kong,Turks and Caicos, the Caribbean, Spain, Malta, Mexico, France, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Egypt. I have also travelled across the US and Canada, and most recently, to Fiji.
How did it feel to not be as fluent in the dominant language?
Not knowing the native language makes it harder to communicate, even if it is reading road signs or asking locals for directions. People can automatically tell that you are a tourist, but in the majority of places that I’ve travelled to, locals are always willing to accommodate. As long as you make an effort to learn their culture and language such as saying “hi” in their native tongue, they will make an effort to speak English.
What was a challenge that you faced in communication or learning another language? Or becoming acclimatized to this new culture?
Chloe: A recent challenge that I experienced while volunteering in Fiji was teaching kindergarteners. They hardly spoke any English besides “teacher! teacher!” and I only spoke ~5 words of Fijian. Also, the culture was quite different from ours, which further deteriorated our level of understanding. I learned the importance of body language and facial expressions. This is so universal, and children pick up on it immediately. If they did something bad and were going to get in trouble, they would know without me needing to say a word.
What helped make it easier, or more fun, to meet the challenges above? Do you have any advice for other travellers?
Chloe: In order to understand the language and culture, you have to submerse yourself in it. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but when you observe the culture and listen and try to speak the language, you will naturally adapt.
When I first got out of the taxi in Fiji, I almost got hit by a taxi because we were looking the wrong way when crossing the road. Keep your eyes open, observe, and enjoy 🙂