Knowing enough of a language to be able to say hello, thank you and understand a few basics is really important to the enjoyment of a place and how easy everyday life is going to be. In post compulsory education the yard stick for basic language skills is being able to summon appropriate emergency support and to use a telephone directory. Between us we have a working knowledge of French and a little bit of German – it's a start. We now have a large collection of books and flash cards to teach us more French, Spanish and Portuguese and a selection of other books which show us boaty, emergency and basic words in a number of other languages.
Some conversations such as asking for apples in the market or paying in the supermarket are fairly straight forward as are some signs such as 'toilettes' however some are certainly not covered in school French lessons such as 'excuse me could you change these two 2 euro coins into four 1 euro coins as change for the washing machines please?', 'excuse me what day is bin day and where do I leave the bin bags?' or even 'Good morning, I would like a new SIM card for my mobile phone please'. So far we have managed pretty well, we have been understood and been able to understand what others have said to us including shops, markets, the post office and even the lady seller in the market who grabbed us and started telling us all about her wonderful glasses cleaning product! Other times we have encountered people who take pleasure in speaking English including marina staff and the customs officials, I suspect that other times we may not be so fortunate and a few useful phrases will make life easier. Reading signs, weather reports and information boards is easier as you can do it at your own speed, pick out the words you know then try and fill in the gaps.
The children have been learning French and practising it on market stall holders and shop keepers receiving many smiles in return for their efforts, they are also doing well with their accents, although as with Britain in all countries the accent changes depending on where you are and common usage is not the same as text book language - we have picked up the French for 'yeah' in addition to the taught French for 'yes' . They also enjoy watching French telly – cartoons and slapstick humour are the same in all languages!
The next language to tackle will be Spanish which will be interesting as we have no background in that language at all, we'll see how we get on.
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