Katherine is one of our uTalk Challenge participants; she chose to learn Maltese in preparation for her holiday in the sunshine! Here she shares a few of her language adventures, and explains why she found knowing a little bit of the local lingo made the trip even more enjoyable.
Learning Maltese probably counts as one of the more pointless things you could do in life, as it is only spoken in two small islands, where everybody speaks very good English. But being in the position of having a week’s holiday booked in Malta for the last week of January, it seemed like the perfect thing to do for January’s uTalk challenge; after all, it is a language, and a very interesting-sounding one at that – it appears to be a mixture of Italian, English and Arabic. And what a great place to visit in January too, with the sun shining and temperatures in the high teens.
So here I am with my “gelat” (ice cream) in front of Mgarr in Gozo (the harbour where the little ferry arrives from Malta, just a couple of miles away), with some people talking on a “dghajsa” (boat) behind me, and the “xemx” (sun) shining brightly. And then with my husband at the “Tieqa Zerqa” (the Azure Window), which is one of the features shown in the final uTalk topic about the country. That section is great when you actually get to the country, as you can recognise places and know how they should be pronounced. In fact, having got the gist of how the combinations of letters are pronounced, it was great fun to be able to say the place names and street names and even read some notices, picking out the odd word or two.
It was on our outing to Gozo that I had my highlight of the week, language-wise. I was able to order some coffees, one black and one with milk and some local snacks (also featured in the Malta topic, so I knew they were the local delicacy)! I also asked for the bill and said goodbye etc; this all delighted the elderly lady serving us, in fact maybe we made her day! Not quite such success later that same day, when I came to use the phrase top of any uTalker’s list – “Zewg birer, jekk joghgbok” (2 beers please). I thought I had said it wrong, but it turned out the waiter was from Serbia!
So, even though it was not at all necessary to learn Maltese to visit Malta, it definitely enhanced my holiday to be able to do so a little bit. And what’s more, even though I suspected I had been learning the words and phrases just to amass the points and they wouldn’t stick, I found that they kept popping into my mind, so in fact they had stuck!
A great challenge, and I’m looking forward to next month’s new language!
Hello, goodbye, yes, no, please, thank you – and ‘can I have a glass of wine, please?’
You may well wonder what connects the words and phrase above. It’s quite simple: for me, these are the bare essentials of foreign language knowledge when visiting another country. You may of course prefer beer or water, but you get the point!
How learning a language earned me a free jar of ‘seaweed’
Earlier this year, my husband and I had booked ourselves a short break to Dubrovnik in the summer, while our teenage children were both camping with Scouts.
My first attempt at speaking Croatian was a little too successful: having asked for a table for two (stol za dvoje, molim vas) in a restaurant in town, I was treated to a torrent of Croatian, but at least it was clear that we were merely being offered a choice of tables! Phew. Simply having a go, showing an interest in the people and their culture is so rewarding, as the assorted conversations we had during our short week demonstrated – albeit in English, after I’d attempted what I could in Croatian. A Brit attempting Croatian was a novelty and people were keen to chat as a result.
I was even complimented on my pronunciation – quite an achievement in such a short space of time, I felt!
Beyond the conversations and a few complimentary drinks, tangible evidence of the value of having a go came in the form of this jar of a pickled local seaside plant called motar (it isn’t seaweed, it just looks a bit like it when served up), courtesy of a restaurant kitchen during a lovely meal. Such a thoughtful and novel gift.
With a background in languages, and the amazing experience both my children have had on the EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge in the past, there was no way I could resist the opportunity to add to my linguistic arsenal at the beginning of the year, when EuroTalk decided to offer adults the chance to have a go at learning a language of their choice using the uTalk app.
So I chose Croatian. Why? I have never tried learning a Slavic language before, so thought it would be more of a challenge – and had long fancied visiting the country, in which case, it would prove handy.
Too many consonants!
Challenges work for me, but I did wonder whether I’d overestimated my ability on opening the app for the first time! It was immediately apparent that I was going to have to learn each word from scratch, no chance of using my favourite Romance languages to help me out this time! My tongue struggled to get round the string of consonants or seemingly odd letter combinations, such as ‘puno vam hvala’ (thank you very much), and I found the only way I could commit the words for ‘airport’ to memory (‘zračna luka’) was to declaim them in the style of John Cleese in the film A Fish Called Wanda…
Determination and encouraging messages from EuroTalk kept me going until the end of the month, when I was very pleased with my final score. Mind you, as I struggled to remember the order of the pictures on the memory games, I had plenty of extra practice at earning those last few points!
Which foreign language should an English speaker learn?
As a native English speaker, I can empathise with the difficulties we face when travelling abroad if we want to make an effort to speak another language. Many other countries teach English at school, it’s one of the obvious choices (leaving aside the multi-lingual communities of several of the world’s countries), but which should we learn? There are so many. Once we are abroad, those we meet may be keen to practise their English or are so used to using it with all foreigners, that it can often require some dedication to try out the language of the country you find yourself in.
However, persistence and the willingness to have a go does pay off. I have never forgotten a business trip to Warsaw when my extremely limited Polish was quite possibly a factor in my colleague unexpectedly booking me on to an open-top bus tour of his ‘beautiful city’ – a fabulous extra to my short visit.
So if you’re debating whether to stand out from the crowds on your next holiday to a country where the native language is not your own, my advice is have a go. Now where shall I go next year?
When we asked you in our recent survey why you were learning a language, almost half of you said it was for travel. Which makes perfect sense, of course – why learn a language unless you plan to use it?
As you know, our uTalk app is designed for people who are travelling, who want to learn a few simple words before leaving home, waiting to board your flight, or even when you arrive. Because if you know even a little of the local language, it can make all the difference to your trip – that’s something else you told us!
Because we know travel can be an expensive business, we’re offering one lucky winner a prepaid travel card worth US$100 (or equivalent in other currencies), and a free uTalk Premium in a language of your choice – check uTalk.com to see which ones are available. uTalk Premium includes 1,200 words and phrases across 35 categories in your chosen language – that should keep you busy for a while…
If you’d like to see what uTalk’s all about, check out our guided tour.
Entering is simple – log in below and check out the ways you can take part. The more you do, the greater your chances of winning – it’s that simple! And by sharing the giveaway with friends, you can earn extra entries.
We’ve extended the competition to Friday 7th November, when we’ll verify the entries and then contact the winner, so there’s still plenty of time to enter.