Back catalogue - Speak and Spell

Updated: Sep 10, 2019



30 years ago when I was a student I went to Avignon to play in the curtain raiser match before a Great Britain v's France rugby league match (don't ask we got hammered out of sight). About 25 of us went including Brian Watson, who all these years later has joined me at Warwick Lanterne Rouge CC. Brian was the only one of us who spoke any French and we relied on him to order food and drinks (and bizarrely to talk to the Minister of Sport I seem to recall). I was thinking about that trip last night, after trying to talk to my non-English speaking Belgian host, because in the past that lack of a common language would have been a barrier that resulted in total silence. We (the British) are rubbish at learning other languages. We don't bother to learn them, we just speak slower and louder and expect people to understand us. I struggled last night to manage the most basic conversation with my host. But somehow between us with a smattering of words in each language and the prodigious use of gestures and sounds, we coped. This doesn't match the evening spent watching the England game where somehow my new Serbian friend and I managed to talk about football in German for the full game, extra time and penalties. Over the years I have learned to speak basic Italian, German, Spainish and even some Turkish*. For some reason I could never get my head around French, but it is amazing what you can recall when forced to. For some reason French vocabulary doesn’t stick, unless it's the words associated with cycling, like tete de la course or lanterne rouge. Because much of my travel over the years has been for business, I know the most important words in any language are; can I have a receipt please? On a trip like this you have no choice but to try. I am over the embarrassment thing because I have made of fool of myself in many different countries and in many languages. During this trip almost everyone I have spoken to has asked the same questions; how far have you ridden? Where did you start? Where do you go tomorrow? How old are you? I can't decide if that last one is because they are amazed at my fitness or that they think that I should know better. So one of my top tips is going to be to brush up on some basic words and phrases in the language(s) of the countries you ride through. Particularly the words associated with directions and ordering food. Be prepared to try. It's better than silence and you are unlikely to have an old friend to hide behind everywhere you go. Oh, and install Google translate on your phone. I'm not an idiot. *in the unlikely event any of my children are reading this, you can laugh all you like, but I have learned enough in those languages to include them here. No one cares about my sentence construction here.


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