During our travels I try and make it a priority to learn some of the language. It’s not only helpful in getting to and from places and knowing what’s this and that, but it also helps break down barriers and build bridges between myself and the people of the country I’m in. In my opinion, it is also a sign of respect. As a guest in another nation, I not only want to present myself in the best of light to my hosts, but I also want to represent my nation in the best light possible. Yes it is difficult and can be embarrassing at times, but people appreciate the effort and will be more likely to help you out in times of trouble and less likely to take advantage of you when purchasing items in the market or typical tourist shop.
One of my tricks to learning the language is to immerse myself into the language no matter where I am or what I’m doing and at only and iphone app away, it's pretty easy. I don’t always remember what I’ve learned but it always helps. Another trick is to talk to children. They’re also learning the language and typically are far more patient with a foreigner attempting to speak to them than adults. For example, the other day I was at the food market in Hoi An and ordered two Bahn Mi sandwiches to take back to the hotel for Sarah and myself.
While waiting for them to be made I began chatting with the owner’s two children, They were young and as with any young child they’re amazed by magic tricks (another thing that helps break down barriers and build bridges). My favorite trick to perform, well, really the only trick I know, is an illusion where I remove my finger using my thumb on the opposite hand as the finger being removed. Kids love it and are astounded. They also love it when I show them how its done (yeah I’m a crappy magician for giving away my secrets). While doing the trick the Bahn Mi Shop’s owner’s husband walked up and was also astounded and loved it when I showed him how to replicate it. He walked from stand to stand in the market performing it for other people and laughing hysterically as he did. When he came back, through my crude Vietnamese and some sign language I asked him how to say fingers in his language. He then proceeded to give me the best language lesson I’ve had thus far. He not only wrote down the the spelling of “fingers,” but also drew a hand and arrows to each finger with their accompanying name. They have a name like us for the thumb, pointer, middle, ring, and pinky fingers. I paid and left with a smile and my first Vietnamese language lesson on anatomy.