I think we can all agree, one of the biggest stresses of traveling to a new country, where the native language is different from our own, is – How on earth will we communicate? This anxiety is built up further when we have a preconceived impression that locals are not friendly to those ‘non-speakers’.
Fear not though, you are not alone! Plus, in today’s world we have the added benefit of our own translators at the touch of a button. Most smartphones these days have translation services integrated or a quick Google search can quickly assist you too. We’re also lucky that the world we live in today has developed in this sphere and we’re never far from someone who can kindly support.
However, like everything in life, it is good to be prepared! Below are some tips to keep in mind which will help with overcoming language barriers and make the experience more enjoyable for all those involved.
1. Stick to the Basics
When communicating in a new language it’s always best to begin with the basics. Don’t try and over-complicate sentences or the situation you find yourself in. You can usually get by with the most basic of words and phrases (read on for a few handy ones to note!). You’ll find the more you use these, the repetition will help you retain the language, and you will then be able to build on these basic foundations.
2. Ask for Help
If you have tried to communicate yet you’re still struggling to get your point across, try asking someone else for help. No matter what language you are speaking, we can all often interpret things differently and understand different sayings in different ways – getting a second opinion or outside help can ease the conversation and enable your target listener to understand. This goes both ways so keep in mind that when you get a response, if you do not understand it is ok to ask for help – someone may be able to explain it or get the point across to you in a more comprehensible way. It’s important to also note, that it’s best to refrain from going straight into “do you speak English” before attempting to speak French. It is a good last resort for you to fall back on if all else fails you.
3. Keep it Slow
Slow and steady wins the race as they say and breaking down language barriers is no different. Take your time and don’t rush yourself. Nine times out of ten, the person you are communicating with will quickly understand this is a difficult situation you are in and will give you the time to get your words out. This leads well into point 4…
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Give it a Go
It is a known fact people appreciate others giving it a try than simply expecting others to understand them. As the visitor, it is down to us to adapt to France, rather than expecting the French to communicate to us in our mother tongue. The French give a lot of credit to guests in their country who at least attempt to try speaking in French – once they can see you try and even if you get it wrong, they are much more inclined to help you. Even if you butcher their language, they will be much more supportive and understanding if you give it a go! Besides, one is never as bad as they think they are!
5. Be Respectful and Considerate
Lastly, it can often be extremely frustrating when trying to communicate in a language which is not your first. Not only does it bring anxiety with trying to express ourselves, but also when trying to listen to messages which are often spoken quickly. It’s important to always remain calm and remind yourself not to be so hard when we don’t get it straight away. As previously mentioned, the French people have a lot more time and understanding to non-native speakers when we are respectful and at least give it a try. Ask about their culture and make an effort to learn about their ways. This will go a long way to breaking down the language barrier.
Remembering the above five points will go a long way with helping you integrate within your new community. They seem obvious points to note, however you would be surprised how many people simply forget to follow them once they find themselves in the high-pressured situation. Just relax, take your time and be open to not only speaking but listening and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how reciprocal the French will be.
With that being said, I have listed a few words and phrases to get you started and should help you navigate your way around some of the most common situations in France.
- Good morning / Hello: Bonjour
- Good evening: Bonsoir Goodbye: Au-revoir
- Thank you: Merci
- You’re welcome: Je vous en prie
- Please: S’il vous plait
- Excuse me: Excusez-moi
- I’m sorry: Je suis désolé
- Yes: Oui
- No: Non
- I don’t speak French: Je ne parle pas français
Last, but certainly not least, always remember to start with a “Bonjour” accompanied by a smile. We all know how far a smile goes in this world.
If you would like to learn more or are interested in having the basics to hand for the bakery or metro for example, please get in touch and we can help you out!
Good luck – you got this!