Monday, June 20, 2011

Fun with language

While in north east Spain, I had a lot of fun trying to communicate with a Spanish phrase book in hand. We quickly realized that while most people do speak Spanish, their first language was likely to be Catalan. Catalan is yet another romance language and has some similarities with both French and Spanish, but is a distinct oral and written language more closely related to Romanian! While I never really grasped much Catalan, after a few days it became easier to decipher a menu and street signs... I could say Hello, ask for white wine and beer, salad and bread, and ask for the bill, but had a lot of difficulty understanding the replies. Even though I took a year of Spanish in high school, that was 40 years ago without any practice in between!

French on the other hand has been a lot easier for both of us. As soon as we crossed the border, the highway signs became easier to follow and menus are definitely easier to read. My pronunciation is appalling, however the server at our first dinner just outside Foix complemented me on my accent. I think she was just trying to make me feel good (she succeeded!) One of our best experiences was when we were trying to get to the village of Lastours where there are four remnants of Cathar towers on craggy peaks. We had to follow a detour, and the signposts weren't very good. Lloyd stopped the car opposite an old man on a bench (every village has an old guy on a bench...) and said in his best Canadian English accent: "Bonjour, monsieur! Lastours?" The man struggled up to his feet and threw his shoulders back proudly. He said, "Oui monsier! Sur le pont, a gauche, a droit, a les portes verte" or something like that...the important thing is that we knew to go over the bridge, turn left, then right at the green doors. It was so exciting to understand what he said! We think we gave him something to tell his wife too...

All this experience is making me realize how important it is to know another language and to not take English for granted. We are so privileged to travel pretty well anywhere in the world and for English to be the language in common.

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