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Avez vous an ear trumpet?

We spend quite a lot of time and energy booking our holidays to Spain, France or Eastern Bulgaria and finding the right camp site or hotel through the web or travel agent.

But we often fail to realise that we might have a language problem further down the road. ‘Doesn’t every one speak English?’ we ask. Well, of course most of the world does but there is still a section of the world that doesn’t – or that simply refuses to do so on principle (good for them).

It comes to me in a blinding flash when I get off a plane or climb into a hired car that this might be a problem. It is too late by then to make a quick visit to the local bookshop for the most up to date phrase book or DVD to save the situation. So it usually comes down to avoidance strategies that I have honed over the years. I offer this advice secure in the knowledge that most of T&L readers are fluent in at least three languages (if you tick that box stop reading now). But for those who are not so blessed I offer this advice, should you venture to foreign lands this summer.

The first step is to try to ascertain if the person speaking to you is friendly. If you believe they are answer, oui, kuke or ye (depending on the country) when a gap occurs. ALWAYS SPEAK IN A LOUD VOICE - foreigners are usually hard of hearing - and smile. If the person is deemed to be unfriendly, listen intently, with good eye contact, when you consider they have finished purse your lips, give a Gallic shrug and turn away in disgust. If out shopping join the queue in the bakers, supermarket or shoe shop and listen carefully to what others say when they get to the counter. This usually works, but a word of caution. It can result in purchasing totally inedible things or shoes that would only fit a very small child and never see the light of day again.

Talking of children, I have a grandchild staying with us. Of course, she is probably the brightest and cleverest child for miles around and well above the average IQ (being of my lineage), but being only two she still has some difficulties with language. Recently I was in the kitchen when she approached me, spread her arms with a gesture that was both evocative and hopeless and said: ‘Aright yawo actracto teli braaa yona yaity,’ or words to that effect. She took my hand and led me to the sitting room where she was unable to explain to her father (he simply didn’t understand) that she did not like the adverts interrupting her favourite programme. My point is that while I was not up to translating her language she made excellent use of gesture, expression and the creative use of English.

So, throw away all those phrase books and helpful DVDs and take a leaf out my grandchild’s book (mostly sensible pictures) and make the best use of signs and a strong conviction that what you say is really important and you will certainly find the garage, baker, cannabis cafe or hotel that you are looking for – in any country. Happy holidays!

P.S. Do let me know how you get on.

Tony Kane is founder of Time & Leisure Media Group and editor of the Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Putney editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.