6th February 2017: Day 18 - Mit Navn Er Taiwo

This time 20 years ago, I had just taken my first trip to Salvador Brazil.  It was my first journey outside of what I considered the travelling ‘norm’ of Lagos, France, Ibiza, Greece etc. To go to Brazil was like flying to the moon for me at the time. I had always wanted to go there partly because it seemed so exotic, but also because my maternal grandmother’s side of the family had come from Brazil.  It wasn’t until I met someone who had been to Rio that my going there became a possibility which, after a flick through the Evening Standard travel pages became a reality. 

This person who went to Brazil advised me to go out and buy Linguaphone so I could learn a little bit of the language before I went, so I did.  On the plane journey I was assured by the Brazilians on the flight that I would be okay, that everyone spoke English. Except they didn’t. I arrived at my hotel, said in my best Brazilian Portuguese

‘I have a reservation,’

and as soon as the hotel receptionist opened his mouth I realised that Linguaphone is good at teaching you what to say, but (unless I had only bought volume one or something), it doesn’t teach you the answer and what to say after that except,

Voce fala Ingles?’ D you speak English?

We British are notorious for not taking the time to learn the language of the country to which we’re travelling, and we think that the louder and slower we repeat the phrase (in English) the easier it will be for the person to understand and then we get frustrated when they don’t.  I witnessed this in a hotel in Thailand in December. It was at breakfast and the man was at the fried egg station. He was getting some eggs and wanted the kitchen assistant to heat up some bacon that was sitting in the buffet.  She didn’t understand him so he just got louder and angrier and she got more stressed and was on the verge of tears. What I wanted to do was tell the man to behave himself. That if he wanted to make himself understood, then he should learn the language. Instead I simply pointed to the bacon then pointed to the frying pan and the kitchen assistant got what I meant.

Part of the reason I didn’t say anything to the man was that I was equally guilty. I had told myself that I would at least learn how to say hello and thank you before I travelled to Thailand but I never got around to it. That changed and by the end of that day. I was could say ‘hello’ no problem, but for the life of me I couldn’t get the ‘thank you’ phrase right and was corrected each time I said it. I’ll have it right by the next time I go.

In the last year to eighteen months I have met people from so many different countries around the world. In the majority of cases their worst English is better than my best attempt at their language because my best attempt is zero.

Therefore, today my challenge was to learn five words or phrases in a foreign language. I can say at least five words or phrases in French, Brazilian Portuguese, I could probably put 5 together in Italian and Spanish and of course there’s English and Yoruba (I probably only have 5 phrases in Yoruba) and I wanted to try something completely different.  So I decided to go for Danish because:

a)      It really is outside of my linguistic comfort zone and

b)     I know someone from Denmark

 I messaged my friend Michael and asked him to record and send me the following five phrases:

1.      Hello

2.      How are you?

3.      My name is Taiwo

4.      Thank you

5.      Goodbye

I practised the phrases – they weren’t too difficult - recorded the finished result and sent it off to Michael today.  I got a ‘Good Job,’ which I interpreted to mean I got them right (although I also got the laughing with tears emoji so probably sounded funny).

I like the idea of learning these 5 words and phrases in different languages. Words of acknowledgement, of care. Words that can break the ice between strangers. Words that foster connection instead of separation. I like the idea of each and every one knowing 5 words and phrases in as many languages as we possibly can.

I enjoyed today’s exercise. I have to keep practising though, or else I’ll forget what I learned and then maybe I’ll learn another, and another, and another…


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