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The Language Barrier (or lack thereof)

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One of the biggest worries I hear from American friends who have never traveled abroad is: "I don't speak the language." I think there are a lot of people who are quiet about it but are reluctant to travel overseas because they're afraid they'll be stuck somewhere where no one speaks English.

It's an understandable worry, but I try to talk everyone into believing that you can get along in a country even if you're not conversant in the local language. I'm a good example. Somehow I grew up knowing only three words in Spanish: "hola," "gracias," and "adios." But I just returned from a week in Spain, and I had no trouble. Yes, many locals in Barcelona spoke English, especially on the hotel staff. But one night I had a taxi driver who couldn't find a restaurant -- turned out I had the wrong address. Somehow he communicated that, in fact, that restaurant was only so-so, and he would take me to a better one. And that's how I came to have dinner in what I later learned was the city's best place for fresh seafood.

Then I spent four days on the rural island of Menorca, where many shopkeepers and restaurateurs spoke only Spanish. I managed just fine with smiles. I pointed with my fingers and--in a wine store--exchanged thumbs up and thumbs down signs with the shopkeeper as I chose a couple bottles to bring home. So there you go -- if I can do it, so can you. Hola! Gracias! And adios.



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