Alice Recounts Her Holiday Abroad

7 Sep 2021 | Language

Once does not a habit make, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to at least recount my personal experience. I’d like to talk to you about my 2021 summer holiday, and more specifically about my road trip to Germany in a fitted van with 2 young children. (Photo of one of our mountain camping spots – summer 2021).

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into a travel blog, but I would like to take a look at this from a linguistic point of view. 

Children and languages

I’ll start by making it clear that we had initially planned to stay out 3 weeks, but that we ended up cutting a few days short.

Why? Our two kids, aged 8 and 5, had difficulty with the fact that that couldn’t understand the language being spoken by everyone around them, or even to them. Of course, they quickly learned the words necessary to mind their P’s and Q’s, but nothing useful for talking to other kids their age at a playground.

I do want to say that I think it is important to introduce young children to such experiences as it’s a good way to help them understand the importance of learning foreign languages.

Despite this little change to our plans, the trip was chock full of new discoveries and opportunities to learn, but I’m sure that’s nothing surprising to you!

Travelling with Google Translate

From a linguistic point of view, it’s always possible to get by with English while in Germany, even at the register of any grocery store. On the other side, we met very few people who spoke French.

As it is, it’s always a stressful moment when you’re sitting down in a restaurant with a menu you can’t read and crossing your fingers you don’t end up with something completely inedible. I have to admit, Google image translator provided us invaluable aid in these moments of desperation. Obviously, it didn’t provide us with a quality translation, but it provided crucial information about certain key words that gave us more or less an idea of what we would find in our plates (which generally contained some sausage, to be fair ^_^).

And that wasn’t the only time Google extended a helping hand…

Another huge help came while we were trying to do our wash without understanding a single word on the displayed programmes! Give Google’s solution a test yourself… At least for me, it allowed me to finish my laundry, and get it back in good shape!

And the uses of Google translate don’t end there when you’re abroad.

From time to time, we would end up at a campsite where the receptionist spoke neither French, English, nor Spanish (the 3 languages I, myself speak). After my husband gave a go of understanding what they said in German, I took out my phone and recorded them through Google translate. To my utmost delight, success! It wasn’t exactly a good French translation, but it was enough for me to understand they had a place for us to spend the night!

Of course, these solutions won’t replace professional translation and interpretation, but they do make travelling easier in a way that wasn’t possible 20 or 30 years ago! Want to share your own anecdotes about the linguistic troubles you had on holiday this summer? We’re all ears!