Embarrassed in Egypt, bewildered in Bulgaria, puzzled in Portugal, tongue-tied in Thailand or flummoxed in France?

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Travel-related tips from Michael French at i-interpret4u (www.i-interpret4u.co.uk)

One thing that holds many of us back from learning a new language is the fear of making a mistake. It could be a self-pride thing, the risk of looking and sounding foolish or being laughed at, but nonetheless Brits are no strangers to a language blunder or two but this is not without good cause; and with Spring on the horizon hundreds of thousands of Brits will take to warmer shores this year in search of a tropical paradise. Michael French at www.i-interpret4u.co.uk looks at five common language mishaps and challenges Brits face when trying to communicate on holiday abroad…

1. The False Friend

Accidently using a word in English that has a completely different meaning in another language but sounds similar is known as a ‘false friend’. This is a common mistake made by many people when they attempt to communicate in other language – but if you happen to use the wrong word it could leave you a bit red-faced or indeed knee-deep in ‘hot water’ depending on the context. These scenarios also tend to happen by coincidence, so there is no strategic way of identifying them. Indeed, the consequences of a misunderstood conversation will also differ greatly from country to country and from person to person. But one thing is for sure, you might get more than you bargained for if you find yourself in Norway ordering a coffee in a mugg as this means mouldy or mildew, or you ask for a full cup, because that means drunk.

2. Embarrassing Gestures

In a recent independent survey, we found that a whopping one third of Brits are a bit embarrassed about their poor language skills as they admit to pretending to understand a conversation in another language (when they don’t), making absurd hand gestures or speaking loudly or more slowly to in attempt to get the message across. Unfortunately, in reality this won’t help your cause and some locals might find this behaviour insulting or offensive.

3. Idioms – ‘Raining like cats and dogs’

It might make perfect sense to us Brits, but analyse the phrase a bit more and it’s completely bizarre (since cats and dogs don’t usually fall from the sky like rain) – so you can probably imagine how idioms like this could leave our overseas neighbours in a state of confusion. The situation is the same for us Brits because many countries have their own idioms (that even the more fluent language speaker may struggle to comprehend). So if someone in Russia says they’re ‘not hanging noodles in your ears’ (meaning not kidding), or someone from Germany says ‘to live like a maggot in bacon’ (live in luxury) or if you’re Spanish you might say ‘give it to someone with cheese (which means to deceive – of course), us Brits could find ourselves in a bit of a quandary.

4. The Good Old Phrase Book

Most of us have made the decision to purchase a local phrase book corresponding to the country we are visiting in the hope to pick up a few words, learn a bit of the lingo and have some chance of understanding the basics while we’re on holiday. But, where we come a bit unstuck is when we find ourselves faced with a local who is deep in conversation with us (it may be an emergency situation, you may have simply parked your car in the wrong place, or someone may be trying to warn you about something. Either way, at that point your phrase book is rendered useless. The simple fact is, sometimes there is no substitute for being able to interpret what someone is saying to you, in real-time and at the moment you need it.

5. Everyone speaks English

Probably the biggest misconception or challenge we face, since an impressive 52% of us believe that most of the world speaks English anyway, so there’s no need to worry about language blunders – right? Wrong. In fact, 82% of the world’s population don’t speak English, so you are more than likely to encounter locals who don’t understand a word of what you are saying. With that in mind it makes sense to be a little more prepared next time to venture across the water – you never know it might be your saving grace.

About i-interpret4u (www.i-interpret4u.co.uk)

i-interpret4u provides an easy to use, personal telephone interpreting service for those facing a language barrier whilst living, travelling or doing business overseas. The service connects users to live, qualified and highly experienced interpreters in 85 languages, 24/7, often in less than one minute. When face-to-face with a non-English speaker the service can be used from a landline or mobile using a speakerphone, or, by passing the handset back and forth. i-interpret4u can also assist users in setting up a three-way call to a non-English speaker worldwide.

A range of pay plans are available to suit individual needs, calls are charged by the second for the time that the interpreter is on the line and an entry level subscription of ten pounds will allow users access to the service. Smart phone users can also access the service and manage their account via the free iPhone or Android app.

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