Do you speak English?

I haven’t blogged in a while because I have been traveling! Our university officially gives us two weeks off for spring break, but my break was more like three weeks since I only have class on Wednesdays and Thursdays. After having traveled through Spain, Ireland, and the United Kingdom in my lifetime, I added four new countries to my list. A group of six of us (I, the lone Hoya from Chicago, and five lovely Illini also from the Chicagoland area) spent the first nine days all over Italy. We flew to Rome and then trained to Florence, Venice, and Milan. We came back to Dublin to celebrate the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day (no – Dublin is not normally so decorative and green). Just three days later, my boyfriend and I tackled Prague, Vienna, and Budapest in another nine days. That’s right – three different languages and three different currencies. My three weeks of spring break were fun, yet I never realized just how exhausting traveling really was.

Highlights of the trips? I learned that my favorite thing to do in every city wherever possible was to climb to the top of a duomo (cathedral). It combined the exercise from climbing a ton of stairs with a beautiful view of a new city. My other favorite activity was to try the new cuisine. In other words, I wish I could become a professional food critic. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much food in my life. Sadly, I’ll have to share my food discoveries in a separate post.

What I noticed the most about my time spent in these countries was my fascination with the new languages that I encountered, which, I suppose, was hardly surprising, given my language minor. This was my first time traveling in foreign countries in which I was completely unfamiliar with the native languages – Italian, Czech, German, and Hungarian. I felt extremely awkward while engaging in any transaction because I made the assumption that the person in front of me spoke English. I resorted to looking at the food pictures in menus and pointing to my choice of entree. When I studied in Seville and Barcelona, I prided myself on being able to use my background in Spanish to communicate with the locals. Over spring break, I was an embarrassed American who wished that I knew a little bit more than I did.

For our week in Italy, our group made sure that we knew some basic Italian phrases, such as buon giorno (good morning), grazie (thank you), and ciao (hello and goodbye). By the time we reached Central Europe, my boyfriend and I didn’t bother learning any of these phrases in Czech, German, and Hungarian. Everyone spoke English! At least in Italy, possessing a proficiency in the Spanish language was helpful, since Spanish and Italian are similar. I probably annoyed the rest of my group, but I couldn’t help asking “¿Habla español?” whenever an Italian didn’t know English well (cue my unbelievable nostalgia for Spain). When a peddler was trying to sell me something, he could probably tell that I was American by my yoga pants and gym shoes. He would say, “Do you understand me?” and I shook my head. He then asked, “¿Me entiendes?” I smiled inside because I did understand him, but I continued to shake my head to avoid encouraging him. I was amazed that he kept on asking in different languages. How many languages does this guy know?

After my spring break, I wished that I had studied more languages throughout my education. Anyone who is raised in a household that speaks a language other than English is very fortunate, especially since many people around the world are learning English anyways. It’s sad, for instance, that the Irish language (which is typically only spoken in Ireland) is starting to die out. Few people actually speak the language anymore, and those areas of Ireland that are entirely Irish-speaking are diminishing. While the Irish language is a required course in their primary and secondary schools, I have heard that it is not taught in the most effective way (learning popular phrases first and the relevant grammar second). I hope that the Irish language will be kept alive by its native speakers; it would be such a shame to lose and an honor to know in the first place.

Stay tuned for my next post on food, which is coming soon!

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