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Talk Foreign To Me (a play on words of that song…get it?!) is a brand new interview feature, where every couple of weeks I’ll be asking a whole bunch of language-related questions to other bloggers (and just people who might want to answer some questions). All of this with the aim to highlight the importance of learning another language when travelling.

As a linguist by profession, I’m extremely passionate about learning languages and, more importantly, not being that ignorant British tourist who just shouts louder and louder in English at the waiter in the Greek restaurant who doesn’t understand what I’m saying when I’m asking if they do egg and chips.

There have been too many times in my life where I’ve been baffled by the almost-ignorance of some of my friends who, even when I tell them a million times that thank you in Italian is ‘grazie’ insist on receiving their pizza in Rome with a loud-as-anything THANK YOU MATE.

Um, no.

It’s not hard to learn a phrase or two, right? And, in a way, I think it’s a bit of common courtesy to accommodate the country YOU have chosen to visit.

And we’re not talking complete fluency here. Even the simplest of things like knowing how to say please and thank you in the local language can drastically enhance your experience, wherever you are in the world. One of my party tricks in Kerala, India, was shouting out random phrases in Malayali (it’s hot, do you want to eat, what are you looking at etc.) and they loved it. I made so many stranger friends, it was great!

Anyway, let’s get down to business! The first ever guest kind enough to answer some questions for me is the beautiful Pamela from Travel Like A Chieff….

Let’s start by you telling me a little about yourself! 

I’m Pamela (Chieff)allo from Travel Like A Chieff, a luxury travel and lifestyle blog. My husband and I moved to Dublin, Ireland from Toronto, Canada a couple of years ago and that’s when I started my blog. I left the corporate world and became a full-time housewife after relocating to Dublin, which allowed me to finally pursue my dream of becoming a travel blogger! With four continents, 35 countries and over 180 cities visited – and still counting! – it was time to take my passion and make it my life’s work. You’ll find hotel reviews, itineraries, foodie guides and much more on Travel Like A Chieff!

I am a first-generation Italian-Canadian born and raised in Montreal, Canada where most people’s mother tongue is French but mine is Italian. I started pre-kindergarten as the only non-English or French-speaking child in the whole class where I then learned English. But that wasn’t enough! My parents then decided to get me a tutor over the summer before beginning first grade in a French school. And that is how I learned three languages and I am fluent in all three.

Photo of 5000 year old Passage Tomb famous for the Winter Solstice illumination at sunset

Newgrange, Ireland © Pamela Chieffalo, Travel Like A Chieff

Wow! Fluent in three languages as a child?! That’s incredible. Do you think that speaking more than one language has encouraged or influenced your desire to travel?

I’m not sure it has so much influenced my desire to travel, but it is nice to navigate a country and communicate with locals in their language. People seem to be more receptive and willing to go above and beyond when you speak their language, especially in countries like Italy and France.

It has certainly changed the way I travel in most European or Middle Eastern countries, because being fluent in English, French and Italian require a little less planning. If you get lost, you can simply ask anyone for directions. You can walk into any restaurant and know that you can read the menu and communicate with the staff without any issue. There is definitely less thinking involved when you know the language and you can move more freely.

So do you think it’s important to try and speak the local language while travelling?

I do. It makes it easier for everyone. It also allows you to fully immerse yourself in the culture. People tend to be friendlier when you can communicate with them and it gives you something in common. You are then more likely to start a conversation and find out more about a place.

My husband and I have decided to learn Japanese since we love Japan and most people there do not speak English. Since we plan on travelling there more often we felt it was necessary to at least learn the basics.

Can you give an example of when your language skills have helped you while travelling? Maybe a time when you got something you otherwise wouldn’t if you were limited to just English?

My husband and I were in Paris last year and we usually plan all our dinner reservations weeks, sometimes months in advance. After failing to get a reservation at Le Jules Verne, a Michelin starred restaurant at the top of the Eiffel tower several weeks prior to our trip, my husband decided to give it one last shot on that same evening. We are both Montreal natives and the French seem to find our accent rather amusing. His usual charming ways AND the accent got us a table! Once we arrived it was clear that our table was added at the last minute. We were strategically placed at the end of a section with just enough room for the staff to move freely.

A beautiful view overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France from a hotel window

Overlooking the Eiffel Tower © Pamela Chieffalo, Travel Like A Chieff

That sounds amazing! On the opposite side of the spectrum, has there ever been a time while travelling where you’ve thought “Damn it, I wish I could speak [insert local language here]”?

Yes! Following our recent trip to Japan, my husband and I have decided to learn Japanese since we love Japan and most people there do not speak English. Things would have been so much easier if we’d been able to communicate with the locals. Most Japanese don’t speak English at all so simple things like taking a taxi or ordering food at a restaurant can be frustrating when you can’t express yourself. Since we plan on travelling there more often, we feel it’s necessary to at least learn the basics!

Other than Japanese, if you had the chance to become fluent in one language overnight, what would it be and why?

I would have to say Arabic as then I’d be able to understand my in-laws when they speak amongst themselves!

Learning Arabic would be amazing! Do you have any tips or tricks on how to easily learn and remember a language?

I am actually not so good at retaining other languages! My brain apparently stopped the retention process after I jammed 3 languages into its repertoire during my childhood. That said, it doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying. We’ll see how it goes with Japanese.

Positano, Italy © Pamela Chieffalo, Travel Like A Chieff

Japanese seems really hard to learn, but I’m sure you’ll get on just fine. 
Finally, what do you think are the most useful phrases everyone should learn before visiting a new country? And how do you say them in the languages you speak? 

Where is the bathroom?
French:  Où sont les toilettes?
Italian: Dove si trova il bagno?

Where is the best shopping area?
Italian: Dov’è il miglior shopping?
French: Où est le meilleur endroit pour le shopping?

Can I order another glass of [insert beverage here] please?
Italian: Posso avere un altro [insert drink here] per favore?
French: Puis-je avoir un autre [insert drink here] s’il vous plaît?

You can find Pamela (and turn green with envy at the places she visits!) over at Travel Like A Chieff as well as her social media channels: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn


A huge thank you to Pamela for being kind enough to participate, I really enjoyed reading her responses AND as an added bonus I now know how to find the bathroom in France!

Do you speak a foreign language?! Or is English your foreign language? If you’d like to be interviewed for this feature (you really don’t have to be fluent, I’m just interested in your general experience with languages abroad) then please drop a comment below or shoot an email to rhiannon@walestowherever.com and I’ll get back to you with more info!