6 800 ways to say cheers |

6 800 ways to say cheers

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20 January 2012

Photo by Akuppa

Language is what made us climb out of the trees and start walking straight, it’s one of those fundamental differences between ourselves and every other creature on this planet.

Somewhere between 50 000 and 200 000 years ago there must have been a human - or Homo Sapiens as they called themselves those days - who wanted something more than basic communication.

He had already learned how to warn his fellows for danger, how to say he was hungry, thirsty, scared, bored, sick or horny and how to warn his opponents that setting foot on his ground means a long and painful death.
But how was he supposed to explain to the misses that he doesn’t want to eat bamboo everyday, that he wants his steak rare instead of well done, that his mother in law starts to annoy him or that he thinks she’s the most beautiful woman in the world?
And language was born.

Funny enough, all around our planet this phenomena started to take place, more or less around the same time - with a marge of a couple of thousands of years - and in the same manner.
Evolution did its work and in our 21st century we now know about the existence of 6800 different languages.

Photo by Ben Sutherland

For the world traveler, this can be a bitch and a blessing.
Not being able to say even the basic things, to say what your name is, where you live or which bus you are looking for can make you feel very helpless. Being ripped off by the taxi driver and not being able to start a discussion doesn’t help much and when you finally make it to the dinner table and you can’t read a single word of what’s on the menu, ending up with something that could be cow stomagh, or goat brains or something from a donkey. Who knows?
Then you wonder: “Why? Why did I have to come to Uzbekistan? So many countries in the world where people understand English or French. But no, I had to come to the most desolate place of our hemisphere”.

These things do happen, but not that often as many think. We got so used to our spoken language that we forget that we have other possibilities. When we were two year olds, we were able to get everything what we desired without saying more than “mama”, “dada” and “cookie”.
By pointing at stuff and by expressing our emotions our parents understood us completely.
Now we are 15 times older and we still possess that skill, but we don’t use it anymore. Unless we are forced too. Unless we really need to go to the toilet. Unless we really don’t want a Heineken this time.
This is when you understand that you had another language hidden in the back of your head. Which can get you everything your desire.
When you travel often to far off places, you need to train this skill, enabling you to get a bed, fed, and on the right train.

Photo by L. Marie

If you really like to get to know a country and have a chat with the people, sign language won’t be sufficient. What happened to the Homo Sapiens all those centuries ago happens all over again. You experience the need for a higher level of communication.
This doesn’t mean that you need to take a three year Spanish course before you go on a citytrip to Barcelona, a couple of words are already a very good start.

Everybody appreciates the stranger who does his very best to say a couple of words in our beloved language. Not much, a polite hello, thank you or excuse me is enough to make me like the outlander.
Give it a try and you will notice that people will become more friendly once you start your conversations in their language.

Just like the evolution of language happened because of the need for a higher level of communication, the more you want to know about a country, the more you want to integrate and the more you want to do like Romans do, the more you will feel the need to learn the language.
And the best way to do this is to dive in.
There is nothing wrong with taking after work classes Russian, but as long as you don’t practise it on a daily basis there will remain very little once you need it.
A better choice is to fly into Saint Petersburg and start taking Russian classes at a multinational school. Or pay a teacher who wants to earn a little after work. Try to stay in a host family, or at least in a place where there are no other foreigners. In the beginning, this is very akward, but you will be amazed how soon you’ll be chatting about parties and politics.

I don’t know how many languages a person can learn in his life, and I have no intention of learning too many of them. But I do have the ambition of learning 6 800 different kinds of cheers.

This post has been written as part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge. Click the icon if you like to learn more about this.

Do you prefer traveling to places where you can or can't speak the language?

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