Ou sont les toilettes, s’il vous plait?

Like any adventurous person or excited traveler, I enjoy visiting cultures and environments that are new to me, unfamiliar and exciting. This often means that I am traveling to places where I am unable to ask where the nearest restroom is.

Well…that’s not 100% true. I did take 2 years of French in middle school and I like to pretend that I remember some of that. The real problem here is that I spent four years in the wonderful world that is Latin–which, they neglect to mention, is not a language that will do you much good out in our globalized modern society. (That’s not to say that it didn’t help me kick butt on the SATs.)

As I look forward to at least a couple completely foreign countries on my plate for this year, I realize that I have yet to learn a language besides English.

I think this puts the whole travel situation at a major disadvantage. Right off the bat I’m cutting back on how much I am going to be able to take away from a place, how much I’ll be able to learn from the people, and perhaps most importantly, what their experience will be with me. (I know it puts me at ease when I first met someone new and they can speak my language.)

So this year I’ve added a language element to my New Year’s Resolution. Along with (1) Getting active every day for at least 30 minutes and (2) Keeping up with daily posts on the blog, I am attempting (3) to learn French.

It’s not so much that I want to be fluent by the end of the year or anything like that, but I want to force myself (as New Year’s Resolutions are known to do) to practice and move forward with French a little bit every day. And I have found the perfect means to do it.


One of my housemates introduced “Duolingo” to me this year and I’m hooked. It’s a free website where you can learn a language, as far as I can tell, nearly fluently. You can connect with other friends who are learning and go through a lesson every day. There are writing, speaking and understanding elements and you get points for getting answers correct. If that’s not motivation I don’t know what is.

And the catch? Well, there really isn’t one. The reason they are able to operate the website for free is because you are required, in order to move forward with lessons, to attempt some real world translations as you go along. I guess the variety of languages is a little disappointing, but they’re new here, cut them some slack. As of right now they offer Spanish and French with Portugese and Italian in beta testing.

It’s been two days so far and I’m steaming right ahead. I will be so proud when I can ask where the bathroom is in Haiti and not get a furled eyebrow and head scratch in response.

What do you think about language and travel? Have you ever tried to learn the language before traveling somewhere?

4 thoughts on “Ou sont les toilettes, s’il vous plait?

  1. Reblogged this on wander one day and commented:
    Ever since I tried the Pimsleur Language Learning CDs, I’ve been looking for a more modern alternative to learning a foreign language. Preferrably, one that is both addicting and practical. I’m looking for something that allows me to learn the vocabulary visually (see how it is spelled), vocally (hear it pronounced), verbally (pronounce it myself), and in context (learn phrases and sentences, not just words). When I saw the post over at The Penniless Traveler, I knew I had found a keeper.

    Duolingo is a little less flexible/versatile, because it is still very new. It doesn’t have a mobile app, it doesn’t have very many languages offered, and it requires you to have working speakers/microphone.

    But it is fun! I tried it with my measly beginner French, and my more advanced Spanish – and I definitely enjoyed it. Pronouncing the French vocabulary into the microphone was the most helpful aspect of it. I’m used to Spanish pronunciation, but French is a different story.

    So thanks to Rachel at The Penniless Traveler!

  2. I think it’s really important – it shows respect for the place you’re visiting. I already know French and Spanish from school and I’ve taught myself some Italian. It’s really fun too 🙂

  3. I might give the Spanish one a go. I know a bit of conversational Spanish, well, enough to get by in tourist areas, but am always looking for ways to improve and practice. Would love to be fluent but I don’t practice enough! I have used the Babbel online course and thought it was really good, but you have to pay a small subscription fee.

  4. Pingback: Kreativ Blogger Award and Nominations « wander one day

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