In Spanish, the word for…: Conversation starters

Odds are, you know at least part of a foreign language. Whether you’re bi- or tri-lingual, a regular polyglot, or only remember the basics from a high school French class, you most likely remember something, and more often than not that word means “poop.”

The  words people remember from languages they don’t use much are the fun words. Swear words, strange idioms, words that are plain fun to say: these are the words that we remember best.

Beyond some greetings and counting to ten, all I remember from my middle school Spanish class is how to say pencil sharpeners: Las sacapuntas. Why? Because it’s so much fun to say! Sacapuntas, sacapuntas. The fun rhythm made me smile then, and still makes me smile today.

When I moved on to American Sign Language, you can bet your bottom dollar that when showing friends what I’ve learned, I went straight to “horny,” “whore,” “bullshit.” It’s fun to know how to swear in secret—and in this case, in silence.

The first sentence I learned in German was Ich bin Blau: I am drunk. My friend taught me at a high school lunch one day.

My friend’s sister who studied abroad in Italy once told us of an Italian idiom that is equivalent “rose tinted glasses:” “Avere gli occhi foderati di prosciutto.” It’s funny because it is literally translated as “to have your eyes wrapped in ham.”

Language is not just important and brain-expanding; it can be a load of fun, too. Bringing up tongue twisters, swear words, and fun phrases in foreign languages can be a light-hearted conversation starter that leads into a linguistic parade. Bring your dictionaries!

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Learning German

I think I’m going to start learning German. I feel like I should know a second language for my Europe trip, and frankly, American Sign Language just isn’t going to be the most helpful thing. I could brush up on my Italian, but I don’t plan on going to Italy, so I don’t know how helpful that would be.

I think German, because I don’t like the silent letters of French and there’s no real reason to learn Dutch, even if I’m spending most of my time in the Netherlands, because apparently everyone there learns English. So, German seems like the most obvious choice. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m lucky enough to be the sort of introvert who isn’t terrified of social interaction, even if I do need time to recharge. It took me a lot of work, but I’m also no longer afraid to talk to strangers. If I didn’t talk to anyone, a second language would be simply unnecessary.

I was asked recently what my favorite things about traveling were, and I said art, history, and food. I could spend hours in museums or just walking around a city. I could eat until I explode out of my pants. I like eating things where they’re famous, like fresh Maine lobsters or Louisiana gumbo, Canadian poutine and Italian pizza—which by the way I didn’t like at all. And I like seeing the local art, the “flavor” of the city, and I like being where history happened.

People came as an afterthought, because I haven’t travelled somewhere where they didn’t speak English in about three years. Connecting with people was something I just did, it wasn’t something I had to work at, and it didn’t seem like a “cultural” experience, or something I could only do on location. I meet new people all the time, it isn’t something unique to traveling…or is it?

After all, why am I trying to learn a language, where English is honestly probably enough? To connect with people on their level. To make friends over the language barrier. To be a traveler, not a tourist.

So, German. I have always loved German history, and the German language is so pretty to me…I may be in the minority with that opinion, though.

We do get to visit Germany, guaranteed, on a class trip—and even if that doesn’t happen for our semester, I’ll definitely spend a weekend there. I heard Berlin is beautiful.

Six months to learn conversational German. I’ve done more in less time…Let’s do it!

Auf Wiedersehen