Traveling Abroad -- Issue?


  • Jun 30, 2010 12:33 AM GMT
    Me and a couple friends are planning a visit to Europe - Rome in Italy, Athens in Greece, and Istanbul inTurkey - but none of us are fluent in any of the main spoken languages in either country. Has this ever been an issue that any of you have come across or are we bound to find English speaking people in each country since we are visiting the major cities?

    Any other tips are appreciated! icon_smile.gif
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    Jun 30, 2010 1:28 AM GMT
    whatsupdude4693 saidMe and a couple friends are planning a visit to Europe - Rome in Italy, Athens in Greece, and Istanbul inTurkey - but none of us are fluent in any of the main spoken languages in either country. Has this ever been an issue that any of you have come across or are we bound to find English speaking people in each country since we are visiting the major cities?

    Any other tips are appreciated! icon_smile.gif


    I've been to six or seven countries in Europe, and I could only speak the language in one of them. You won't have a problem if you're limited to English; virtually every travel-oriented establishment - restaurants, hostels, museums, landmarks, etc. - accommodate English speakers.

    More than likely, there will be many other people traveling from exotic destinations, and they will also try and use English to get by. Natives might actually be more appreciative of you since you speak English fluently. I just wouldn't recommend being too cavalier about not knowing the native language. It could be useful to learn a few key phrases; "I'm sorry" and "thank you" almost always come in handy. icon_biggrin.gif

    Also, just a word of advice, don't let your friends accept drinks from strangers in or around bars without paying in advance. Quite a few of the other students abroad got strong-armed into draining their ATM accounts from some shady folks.

    Just be smart about things, use your common sense, take a lot of photos, and enjoy yourself!
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    Jun 30, 2010 1:29 AM GMT
    whatsupdude4693 saidMe and a couple friends are planning a visit to Europe - Rome in Italy, Athens in Greece, and Istanbul inTurkey - but none of us are fluent in any of the main spoken languages in either country. Has this ever been an issue that any of you have come across or are we bound to find English speaking people in each country since we are visiting the major cities?

    Any other tips are appreciated! icon_smile.gif


    Not a huge issue but it does help to know a few words and phrases.

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    Jun 30, 2010 1:33 AM GMT
    It won't be a big issue. In fact, that's part of the fun! But never expect them to know English even though a lot will know a few words here and there. You are a visitor in their country. If you need help, just be polite and try to explain what you need in a few words and talk with your hands, too. Bring foreign phrase book and a note pad, too. But always be nice, smile, and never lose your patience. If you are nice to people, they will be nice back.
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    Jun 30, 2010 1:36 AM GMT
    whatsupdude4693 saidMe and a couple friends are planning a visit to Europe - Rome in Italy, Athens in Greece, and Istanbul inTurkey - but none of us are fluent in any of the main spoken languages in either country. Has this ever been an issue that any of you have come across or are we bound to find English speaking people in each country since we are visiting the major cities?

    Any other tips are appreciated! icon_smile.gif


    I was in Rome two years ago and had no issues. It has been sixteen years since I have been in Istanbul and Athens but it wasn't an issue then and would likely be easier now.
  • vintovka

    Posts: 588

    Jun 30, 2010 1:54 AM GMT
    If you are sticking to the cities you should have no problem (particularly shopping etc.) Friends of mine (a gay couple) said that their biggest problem in Turkey was the overzealous merchants who spoke nearly flawless English-- you can find a great bargain but be expected to work for it.

    I've traveled quite a bit over the years and English is clearly the best language to know if you're only going to know one. My main advice would be to echo what an earlier post said--don't expect people to speak English. I would add that yelling louder in English will not help, maintain a sense of humor (a smile goes a long way), and most of all remember that you are a guest in someone else's country (if you can manage to speak a couple of words in the local language or even attempt to it generally contributes to a sense of good will). Many people in European cities will speak English, but they may choose not to if you piss them off.

    The trip sounds like a blast--I'm officially jealous!
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    Jun 30, 2010 1:59 AM GMT
    I've been to Rome and it seemed there were a lot of people who could speak some English. I also studied a bit of Italian before I went and would recommend that if it's feasible.

    I haven't been to Athens or Istanbul, but I can imagine not knowing a single word of the language can be a bit of a hindrance, but from my experience it depends on the place.

    I've been to places where I don't speak a word of the local language. In some places (like Cambodia) it was no problem. In others (like Morocco) it was a real problem and felt very isolating.

    Every little bit helps. At least learn how to say hello, please, and thank you. Take a phrase book if you can.
  • Gaymer

    Posts: 111

    Jun 30, 2010 2:03 AM GMT
    My biggest tip I can give you, and this is coming from a French Major, so I know European mindset at least a little: To be polite, learn how to say, in the target language "Excuse me, but I speak little/no (target language)>. Could you help me? I speak (Fill in language)".

    Something to that effect will greatly help you. and most of the time, it's simple to learn "excuse me, I'm sorry, but I don't speak (blah blah blah) well. Do you speak english?" It's really nice when you make the effort to at least learn that much.
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    Jun 30, 2010 2:26 AM GMT
    You'll be fine. Those are all huge, cosmopolitan cities heavily visited by tourists from around the world. It's always good advice to at least study up on a few of the main phrases/words for each language (and if you need help on Greek/Turkish, message me because I lived in Cyprus for 5 months and knew a little of both). You'll want to know: yes, no, how much?, hello, thank you. Really simple phrases but as long as you know those, you can at least communicate very basically with the rare people you might come across that speak little English.

    I've been to like 11 countries in Europe and never had language barriers in any of them, and even when I lived in Cyprus, I only had a language barrier issue once, and that was over the phone for pizza delivery.
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  • Bunjamon

    Posts: 3161

    Jun 30, 2010 2:45 AM GMT
    You will be able to communicate very effectively in English everywhere you go, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make an effort to learn some Italian, Greek, or Turkish. Even when you just learn things like "please" and "thank you" it goes A LONG way when you're travelling.
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    Jun 30, 2010 2:50 AM GMT
    Learn a few words, especially words like please, excuse me, thank you, good morning, table for 4/6, check please, where is the toilet/ atm/ and the locals will be warm and friendly.
    Its what is perceived- the difference between a hoity "I dont know your language and couldnt be bothered" anda more endearing "I love your language and am trying to speak even though I speak very little".

    Have a great trip. icon_biggrin.gif

  • Jun 30, 2010 2:50 AM GMT
    Thanks guys! I figured that would be the case since we are staying in the city, but just wanted to make sure. A couple of us have a translator app on our phones/ipod's so looking up and using some basic vocab would be no problem.
  • trl_

    Posts: 994

    Jun 30, 2010 3:13 AM GMT
    Just based on what I know from Turkey, a lot people there are polyglots. Istanbul in particular has obviously been a major trading port and East/West cultural fusion point for centuries so people there know how to at least conduct their business in a few languages (i.e. book your hotel room, sell you a rug, etc).

    My friend was in Istanbul and people couldn't tell her national or ethnic origin so she was spoken to in English, Spanish, and German when they were just trying to guess where she was from.

    I would try to learn some "pleasantries" (Hi, please, thanks, etc) in each language. It will pass time on the flight and it gives Americans a [desperately needed] better image abroad. It looks like you made an effort and they're sure to appreciate it!

    Hope you have fun. Those sound like cool places to see.
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    Jun 30, 2010 4:06 AM GMT
    You won't have any problems, have travelled in all three of those cities and in the main tourist areas especially you will not have any difficulty. If you venture out into the 'real' parts of those cities not speaking the local language can be a bit more of an issue - but have never had a problem getting myself fed and watered and finding what i was looking for.

    In Istanbul you don't want to miss Topkapi palace and the Roman cistern in the same area, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Taksim is a good area for clubbing, catch the funicular up from Karakoy to Galata. If you've never been to a hammam - GO. There are gay hammams (turkish bath) there are also lots of really cool traditional hammams where you'll get exfoliated like never before. The hammams away from the tourist areas are better.