No, this is not the beginning of a job interview, so you can dry off your sweaty palms. It’s true, though, that this has become a popular interview question now-a-days, with the whole globalization of everything deal. But, leaving my own country to live and travel in others makes me ask this question a lot, too. Does this mean I speak the language of every country I go to? No, my friends, it does not.
If a main criteria for traveling was knowing the language of where you were going, that would be 1. awful and 2. really freaking difficult and limiting. Are you aware of how many languages there are? Over 7,000. I know that because I just Googled it. Chances are, you won’t know the language of where you’re traveling to (aka having a language barrier). Truly, this isn’t that much of a problem if you wear a smile and work on your charade skills. However, please research popular offensive hand gestures and then promptly avoid using them.
But, what happens when it’s not so much a language barrier as it is having to figure out what language you have in common? Por ejemplo, in my new apartment, there are four of us and together we speak 7 languages with Spanish as the household language. Our landlady affectionately calls the flat the UN. My roommate’s girlfriend came to visit, who I immediately started speaking Spanish to. Well, turns out she doesn’t speak Spanish. Soo, guess we’ll smile and get our charades on around the house? But, no! She speaks English! English we can work with. Now, I’m speaking Spanish to him and English to her and all the while, they’re speaking French to each other.
It’s exciting discovering what the strongest language connection between two people is. Maybe a 5 minute conversation with someone you wouldn’t normally be able to talk to can help you emotionally justify those seemingly horrible 4 years of German in high school. Not many things can do that, you know.
Next time you travel, don’t assume there is a language barrier. Look for the common ground that can open up a world of conversations. Or maybe just one. If it helps, channel Hagrid with his pink umbrella tapping that special combination of bricks to open up Diagon Alley.
…I may or may not have been up late reading Harry Potter last night.