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Cheap Travel Means Studying Foreign Language

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Cheap Travel Means Studying Foreign Language

To travel the world cheaply I know that I need to learn basics of the local languages of every country that I intend to wander in for a considerable amount of time. I figure that if I wish to remain in a country for more than two weeks it is well worth the time and effort to learn how to hold basic communication in the dominant tongue of the region. In point, if I cannot ask the price of something or understand basic number words, I am hanging at the mercy of every shopkeeper and market merchant that I have to deal with. If I cannot barter for food, say yes, no, thank you, please, that is too expensive, or get away from me, then I am basically Vegetable Lasagna floating in a sea of otherwise competent humanity. To speak is to be human.
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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Budapest, Hungary- July 22, 2008
Travelogue Travel Photos
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I was in a market the other day and I picked up 10 eggs and three tomatoes. I went to pay for them and the vendor named the amount owed in Hungarian. I could not understand what she said, but I figured that the price should have been around 350 to 400 Forint, so I paid with a 500. When I only got 10 forint change I was slightly taken aback, as I believed that I should have received more. But the vendor quickly moved on to the next customer, and I was left tongue tied. As the amount of money in question was rather negligible, I just left the shop without protest. But I burned inside and vowed that I would immediately learn the Hungarian number words and a way to protest higher prices.

So I did, because I know if I want to travel the world cheaply that I need to live like the local people as much as possible, and this means speaking the essentials of their language. If I want to travel and only speak English, then I need to pay for this privledge.

I do not like paying for anything.

I have found that if a traveler can say just a few words and phrases in a local language they can become a little more “human” to the countries they travel through and be treated with far more respect and basic dignity. To travel as a deaf-mute is to be treated as a deaf-mute.

I find myself to be, all too often, a deaf-mute (or Vegetable Lasagna).

I don’t like it, so I study language almost everyday. I am still, more or less, oftentimes Vegetable Lasagna, though I am Vegetable Lasagna with the linguistic ability to at least feed myself, shelter myself, get to where I want to go, and prevent against being blatantly ripped off. I have found that to learn how to say and understand enough language to basically care for myself does not really take too much effort or time. A few words and phrases go a long way.

Basic words and phrases to learn in any foreign language:

1. Numbers – I think that numbers are the most important thing to learn to provide myself with the ability to fend for myself.

2. Commerce phrases – “What is the price?”, “Too expensive”, “Not correct”

3. Greetings – “How are you?”, “Nice to meet you”, “My name is”, “What is your name?” I find that being able to speak greetings make people laugh at you in appreciation that you took the time to attempt to communicate in their language.

4. Yes and No – Knowing these words make for a lot less confusion in all aspects of travel.

5. Food names – Important if you want to eat at cheap restaurants and cannot read the menu or if there is not a menu. Though you can always just walk into the kitchen of a restaurant and point to the food you want prepared for you (though this is a real vegetable lasagna move).

6. Basic directional nouns – I have found that being able to say “bus station”, “train station”, “hotel”, “hostel” etc . . . coupled with “where is?” while pointing to the cardinal directions is sufficient to get around in a country where I cannot speak the language. A simply noun, a confused pointing in random directions, a “where is?”, and a blank look on your face is good enough to provoke someone to point you in the right direction (or in what you hope is the right direction).

If I can get these basics down, then I know that I can get around a country with little linguistic difficulty. I find that it only takes around a week of comfortable study and practice to do this.

So now I study the Hungarian language (it really does sound like a horse-man tongue).

Hungarian number words:

1- egy
2- ketto
3- harom
4- negy
5- ot
6- hat
7- het
8- nyolc
9- kilenc
10- tiz
100- szaz

Links to previous travelogue entries:
Postcards from Around the World
Bicycling to Budapest
Notes from the Czech Republic

Cheap Travel Means Studying Foreign Language
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Filed under: Eastern Europe, Europe, Hungary, Language

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3054 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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