We Brits are probably the laziest in the world – and I don’t mean for getting nothing done – I’m referring to learning languages. I’m a schoolteacher by profession and have spent many years trying to encourage hundreds of children to learn conversational French. Invariably I find an inability, bordering on an unwillingness to learn, grounded in centuries of ‘the Empire’ where the xenophobic attitude of ‘why can’t they speak English’ still prevails as if it’s hereditary.
I now live in Cyprus where I still encounter the British who say they don’t see the point of learning Greek but I’ve found from the effort I’ve made to speak hesitantly in Greek to the Cypriots that my efforts are rewarded with beaming smiles, an extra helping of good service in the shops and on a number of occasions, new friendships.
Expatriates should think back to the times when they complained about the people who come to Britain who don’t speak the language and take a look in the mirror. Equally, imagine you’ve picked up a hire car from Paphos with the intention of driving up into the mountain villages, how are you going to ask for directions if you get lost and can’t speak any Greek?
Learning a language is difficult and research shows that it becomes more difficult as we get older but that’s no reason not to try. For those first anxious attempts, keep the guide book handy just in case you get mixed up. I can recall a time in France I mixed up ‘le cahier’ with ‘la cuillere’ in a restaurant and the waiter was very confused why I needed an exercise book to eat my dessert. Still, my error caused much hilarity in the restaurant and earned me a drink on the house for my stupidity! Trust me though, I’ll never make the same mistake again!
It should be common courtesy to address someone in their own language and it puts us on an equal footing with the person we are speaking to, so this summer once you’ve booked the flight, arranged to collect your hire car in Cyprus
and sorted out you accommodation, reach for a phrase book or try the free ‘learn Greek’ course on www.cybc.com.cy and be proud when you try your first Greek sentence on an unsuspecting local!
David Lewis - Editor for Rhinocarhire.com