Christmas is oddly around the corner again and I keep reading about how festive holidays around the world are a great opportunity to practice one’s newly acquired language skills.
Tempting as it is to picture myself practicing my hopeless German in front of a stollen stall at the Dresden Striezelmarkt, or smugly spreading wishes near and far, consulting my cheat-sheet on the side, when I think of how I have come to acquire some of the finest specimens of my English vocabulary, I cannot help but to think of all those little everyday occasions we often fail to acknowledge and take advantage of.
Drawing from personal language learning experience, I hereby present you with my list of top 5 exploits, slightly unconventional places for language immersion:
1. Fitting rooms
As tedious as I find shopping sometimes, I never, ever, get bored of the dressing room ritual and the expressions that surround it, aka shamelessly eavesdropping on the neighbouring cubicle. They do say that, to learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world – let me make it very clear at this point that I am not looking!
What I mean by ritual is: the cries of approval when a friend looks lush in that top, the diplomatic approach in commenting that a dress complements her midsection, or the hemline showcases her legs, and the curses and profanities when the whole thing turns into a dressing room drama.
People enthuse over style and personal appearance, and the more passionate the debates, the more varied and vivid the language used. If you live in Swansea, next time you are either cheering or blowing your top trying to fit in that stretchy top, keep an eye out for me as I might be on your case.
2. Public restrooms
I am not even joking, this is actually my option number 2 (pardon the pun).
I would expect a certain extent of disbelief based on the saying that it is where even the King goes alone, however there goes a little hint on why women like to go powder their nose together. While washing my hands and fixing my makeup in public bathrooms, I have heard some of the most passionate conversations about a range of topics, from fervent arguments on whether a certain Kelly’s style is cheap-chic, bohemian or preppy, to poignant critique on the high cost of mortgages that breaks the bank, even for a hole in the wall.
I now also know some potty-mouth talk to use next time they give me the wrong change or, dare I say, if my boyfriend ever cheats on me. As absurd as the whole idea may sound, sociological studies reveal that, apart from answering nature’s call, public bathrooms can also serve the purpose of a backstage region where people can drop their social front and engage in everyday social interactions.
Without having to be nosy or indiscreet, the opportunity to hear the local language in its natural and loose form of expression is there, and you might end up learning more than just a flush [sic] in the pan.
3. The gym
I, sadly, cannot claim to be a great fan of the gym but I can’t count the times I’ve heard a story starting with “Jack, my gym buddy…”. Whether you prefer to go with your colleagues during lunch break and catch up with the latest goss, or to keep it real and beast it up, the gym is a great place for some language practice, plus you get the jargon too.
For example, I would imagine that death by free weights is not fun, so by either overhearing or befriending other gym rats, you’ll soon find out the right way to ask for a spot. From the very few times I have frequented the gym, I now know how to tell my burpees from my dips, squats and planks, which is quite useful as I absolutely despise planks and I’d hate to sign up for a class of those accidentally.
4. The taxi
All means of public transport too, for that matter. I may be a little biased as I watched Taxi Driver again last night, but I find there is something particular about the stories you can hear at the back seat of a cab. If you get a chatty drive too, you can get all sorts of topics, from the good old weather talk to the latest shenanigans on a Saturday evening in town.
The latest piece of information I got out of my last ride is about a chilli-related festival, which my chilli enthusiast taxi driver described as the Glastonbury equivalent for all chilli fanatics. I think it is also in a taxi that I have heard my favourite it is raining witches in broomsticks, which quite accurately describes what I see from my window this very moment.
5. The stadium
What I have learnt from observing my friends in Swansea is that you set off for the stadium being all “Oé, Oé, Oé” and “Vamos mi [insert team here]” like the Spanish you are and you come back roaring “Gwlaaad, gwlaaad” (words from the Welsh national anthem). Indeed, football, rugby and other team sports are excellent opportunities to meet and chat with people from different countries, as you are already sharing some common ground for discussion. Just make sure you keep it varied and switch to other issues right after, please. This way you will also have the linguistic contribution of those who are rubbish at sports talk, like myself.
Now that you know me probably a little too well, I’ll leave you to your own colourful interactions in public places while I practice my eavesdropping skills in work’s kitchen.
Written by Maria Ampelourgou.
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