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Old 11-09-2008, 15:02   #1
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What language(s) are the most common?

I'm an American and speak English (duh!). In cruising around, on a global scale (Pacific, Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia), what would be a good second language to know? Spanish? Chinese? I hear Chinese is hard to learn but more people speak it than any other language. Wish I would have studied German longer, I feel so stupid for only speaking one language! (unless Perl & VB count ;-)

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Old 11-09-2008, 15:32   #2
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I sense that you are young, which is good.

It all depends on where you visit. In Cuba, you must speak spanish as very few people there speak english, including their coast guard which you must hail in spanish. In some countries you could get in with only English and then study the language while you are there far more cheaply and effectively than studying abroad, such as staying in the Rio Dulce for your boat and studying in the language schools in Antigua. Spanish will help you up and down Central America and even in Brazil where they speak Portugese, they still understand Spanish.

Some french speaking countries are very pro using french to enter and exit. Chinese, few Chinese have boats, and most yacht clubs or anchorages will speak english primarily as a left over to the British colonization (or forced trade in Opium if we were more precise). Be open to learning local dialects while in the countries. I found Indonesian very easy to learn, and the locals do appreciate the efforts. And of course if you find the ideal place to live, learn that!
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Old 11-09-2008, 15:38   #3
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I've personally not run across any Chinese sailors in the Atlantic, Crib or Med but it may (or may not) be different in the Pacific. While I have ran across many German, Dutch and Norwegian sailors, all spoke English as well as I did. In the Carib and in much of the Atlantic and gulf basin the two alternative languages most useful would be Spanish and French. When out of country most Spanish speaking sailors seem to be able to effectively use English when ever necessary. Within their own country it is not always true.

While most French sailors I have run across speak English, they often prefer or sometime often almost demand you make some attempt to speak their language no mater how you butcher it... after a while they usually relent and speak English.

Actually you don't speak English... you and I both speak American... I once failed an English Class I was taking in Athens Greece... the only primarily English speaking student in the class. Spelling was the most frequent problem... but everyone got a big laugh out of it and my intent was not to learn English but to improve on my Greek which was not being taught.

I'd take a pick of either Spanish or French depending on where you intend to sail.

Come to think of it... some of the most difficult to understand people I have run across are English???? Have to slow them down a tad to get what they are saying.
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Old 11-09-2008, 16:19   #4
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Old 11-09-2008, 17:55   #5
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While I have ran across many German, Dutch and Norwegian sailors, all spoke English as well as I did
Not met many sailors worldwide, but plenty of the above who all (rather annoyingly!) seem to speak English better than like wot I does

Of course in my case a rather self selecting sample and in their home countries English not always so widespread - but still all rather embarrasing to show my (typical Brit!) lack of foreign language skills

From what I am reliably (?) informed once you have mastered a second language (go to lessons to learn the rules - but go to the country for an extended period to learn to actually use it. and preferably whilst working).....that the 3rd and 4th languages are a lot easier. But that is advice usually offered by folk speaking perfect English to me. as their 3rd or 4th Language. Barstewards ......unfortunately I do not think their is any another language as useful as English worldwide as a 2nd language. Regionally maybe, but not worldwide - albeit as already said - English is not universal. Not yet

I still remember a heated discussion with a good mate of mine over a beer in Bangkok....whilst moaning about "Bloody Foreigners" (yes, I know there is an irony ) and the differences in immigration policies around the world and when talking about once an immigrant into the UK gets their passport, my immortal line was: "then they are as British as me and you"........pregnant pause by yours truly........"except the fact that you are German" Bloody Foreigners
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Old 11-09-2008, 18:02   #6
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It's not just the number of speakers you need to be concerned about. It is also their distribution as relates to where you will travel most.

There are over a billino Chinese speakers (several dialects) but their concentration is by far gretest in China. You also have to consider is it a coastal language and will I spend time on that coast.

English is the defacto world language. If I were going to learn another language it would be spanish then Malay (Indonesia, Malaysia).

I don't plan on cruising the med, carribean or Europe but if I did French would replace Malay.
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Old 11-09-2008, 20:32   #7
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My job has had me visiting on average 6 different countrys around the world every year for the last 7 years. Starting in 1977 I began regularly traveling to the MED, the Caribbean and Asia. I have always worked on the waterfront and I have always been around cruisers and cruising destinations. My advice would be to eventually learn a little of as many languages as you can.
If I was to concentrate on one or two languages I would think about your initial destination(s) and work on the dominant language there.
In the Med I found Spanish and French to be most useful. I am big on showing respect for the country I am in by making an effort to use the local language. If the person I am talking to speaks English and that's more often the case than not I find myself talking in a mix of both languages.
I may be too old to see it but Chinese might one day be mandatory to do business in most places in the world. If you need to practice Spanish, Russian, Polish and French in one fun location try Key West. There are more foreign girls in the bars there than you can shake a gin pole at. They all love speaking in their native language.
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Old 11-09-2008, 20:46   #8
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Born and raised in Poland ,had Russian as a second in school , moved to Spain for a year when in my twenties ,learned Spanish ,moved to Canada ,had been here for over twenty years , learned "some English " .
Got married ,had kids ,send them to the French immersion.
Poor them ,they have to use three languages on the daily bases ,but never complained. So, between four of us , we speak five languages .
I think the problem in North America is exposure to foreign languages .
Growing up in the communist Poland ,with only two TV channels we got to watch movies from all over the world, including "Bonanza ". The same with the radio, the national channels would play songs from almost every country . When was last time you watched a foreign movie on the basic channels ,or were listening something that wasn't created in the States .
That's why we are going cruising soon, Want to show my kids that there is life behind Hollywood.
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Old 11-09-2008, 22:33   #9
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English is gradually becoming the default language...which is good for you. I would say if you also know French and Spanish then you can get by in most of the countries that border an ocean. Not all countries, but most.

Also, Chinese is not a language, it is a people. China has two official languages, Mandarin and Cantonese with quite a few dialects of both languages. Therefore, there really is no such thing as learning Chinese. They do though use the same written language.

If you have a choice learn Mandarin because it can be understood in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou (ex Canton)...it is also spoken by 850 million people.

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Old 11-09-2008, 22:51   #10
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In our circumnavigation, we found that English, Spanish, French, and Arabic did the job really well.

We all spoke English, and various members of the crew spoke French, Spanish, and Arabic.

In dealing with officials at the ports of entry, there was always someone who spoke English who was available to assist us with formalities. Language was never a barrier to getting into or out of a country.

In terms of enjoying the trip, linguistic abilities opened doors of opportunity that would have been closed if we did not speak the language.

French was valuable all the way around the world because French cruisers are in great abundance. French also works well in French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

Spanish is great in the Caribbean basin.

Arabic is fantastic if you want to sail up the Red Sea. I learned my Arabic using the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of State course that is used to teach Arabic to state department personnel. It's the FSI Saudi Arabic course, and it's called the Urban Hijazi dialect, which is understood thoughout the Arabic speaking world. This course will get you up and running in functional basic Arabic and make a Red Sea cruise much more enjoyable. You can get the course from many different sources. Here is one of them: Learn Saudi and Iraqi Arabic - Download FSI Arabic Course

We also carried a little picture book that had pictures of hundreds of commonly used items in daily life, and if we were experiencing a linguistic disaster, my wife would pull out the book, and point at the appropriate picture to let people know what we wanted. It almost always worked.

One of the benefits of sailing around the world is that you can make speaking/communicating in foreign languages into a hobby. We always enjoyed it, and everywhere we went, people appreciated our attempts to comminicate in the local language.
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Old 12-09-2008, 15:13   #11
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Wow, thanks for all the replies. To schoonerdog: If you consider mid-30's to be young, then yes I am! I think of it that way, but with a sister who just turned 40 I'm starting to feel the creep of the years!

Spanish is very prevalent here in Florida and would be easy to find people to talk to. I have a bit of German, but would need one of those digital translators to really be functional since I wasn't that good at it to begin with. I am surprised to see that French is so prevalent, but other than Mexico my international travel is non-existent.

Sounds like Spanish would be my best bet as much time will be spent in the Caribbean, with eventual plans to head to the Med. Depending on world politics at the time I have a whole host of other places I'd love to see but right now just would not feel safe going to the Middle East - which is high on my list. Regardless of your faith, you have have one of the 'common' ones that is where it all started. Arabic would be nice come to think of it, kinda curious on a 'hard' scale, how hard is it compared to others.

Thanks guys
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Old 12-09-2008, 20:28   #12
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Old 12-09-2008, 21:54   #13
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Arabic would be nice come to think of it, kinda curious on a 'hard' scale, how hard is it compared to others.

Thanks guys
I never felt at risk anywhere in the Red Sea, and I don't think there's any significant political risk for a yachtie going up the Red Sea. The sailing destinations in the Red Sea are not the types of places where you will run into trouble unless you do things like take pictures of military bases, government buildings, and policemen. In those instances, the countries bordering the Red Sea have their own security issues, and they don't want people photographing their buildings/bases/police that could be targets of nefarious individuals. They don't want photos to be taken that could be used by bad people to harm their own country. We always think of security from our perspective, but they have big security worries of their own.

Once you get away from the Red sea itself and travel inland, security becomes more of a concern, especially in Egypt and Yemen. If you adopt the mantle of a tourist and visit sites deep in the interior of these countries, it's possible, through unlikely, that you could be caught in an unpleasant situation in which terrorists or tribal conflicts happen where you are taking your tours. We did our Egyptian tours without a problem and the security seemed to be adequate, if not good. Certainly the Egyptians made a great display of providing security to us. In Yemen, the situation is much more fluid. Tribal conflicts with the central government often result in the kidnapping of tourists to achieve some local objective, and the results can be catastrophic if the government attempts to rescue you from tribal clutches. For that reason, we did not tour in the interior of Yemen. We felt relatively safe in Aden, Yemen.

I have driven more than 100,000 kilometers on road and off road in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi), and Bahrain without any problems. You would have to be very unlucky to get into trouble touring in any of those countries.

With respect to learning Arabic, I don't think it's inherently any more difficult to learn Arabic than any other language. After all, four year old children speak Arabic fluently. It's not the "difficulty" of the language. It's the way you go about learning it that makes it hard. That why I use the Foreign Service Institue of the Department of State when I want to learn a language. Their courses are designed to get State Department personnel up and running in most of the languages of the world. They thoroughly research the languages, select the most critical vocabulary, simplify it as much as possible, and then give you a course that gets you speaking the language as quickly as possible.

The other problem with Arabic is that there are so many dialects. The most common dialects that you will find in books are Lebanese and Egyptian Arabic which is very different from Gulf Arabic. Unfortunately, it's Gulf Arabic that is most widely understood throughout the Arabic world. When you study Arabic, you don't particularly want to study Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, or North African dialects. Their pronunciation is different, and their words are fequently very different from Gulf Arabic. That's why the State Department course uses an Arabic dialect understood throughout the Arabic world. The Hijazi dialect comes from the region around Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and since this is the area where pilgrims come to perform Haj from all over the world, the Hijazi dialect developed into a type of Arabic that would be understood by people from all over the Arabic world. Jeddah was a crossroads of the Arabic world, and the Hijazi dialect incorporated words from many other Arabic countries.

Don't be afraid to cruise the Red Sea. It's safe.

The Gulf of Aden is a different matter. Piracy from Yemen and Somalia are real risks, and that section of the world is completely different from the Red Sea.
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Old 13-09-2008, 03:47   #14
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A quick thought........

A good way (the best?) to develop language skills is from "Normal" people and daily interaction - but one caution that was passed onto me is to be aware of the type of language you are learning......at the risk of sounding "Classist" if you are learning Japanese from a Barman in downtown Tokyo, the manner and style (and possibly vocab ) you learn will not sit easily at a high powered business meeting with the head of Toyota (and in between those 2 extremes are plenty of other scenarios) so I would also add to bear in mind where you want to use your language skill when learning (not to say you don't use the Barman, but just bear in mind that their may be limitations).

Heard a funny story on the radio recently about a fella in Japan who learnt the lingo from girlfreinds - it took him a long while to realise that he had learnt to talk exactly like a girlfreind talking to her boyfreind, in both use of words, empthasis and manner Other Japanese were either too polite to say anything or were just having too much fun sniggering behind his back
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Old 13-09-2008, 10:12   #15
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Heard a funny story on the radio recently about a fella in Japan who learnt the lingo from girlfreinds - it took him a long while to realise that he had learnt to talk exactly like a girlfreind talking to her boyfreind, in both use of words, empthasis and manner Other Japanese were either too polite to say anything or were just having too much fun sniggering behind his back
Long story - boring - as short as possible. When I went to Japan as the office manager I was introduced to a senior Japanese guy - customer. They use translators because it makes them comfortable. After 45 minutes this old guy leans forward and in English says - "Dan-san. You ah vely young man. You must-oh lahn Japanese ranguage."

"Oh, sure Ohta-san. I plan to learn Japanese. i'll study hard"

6 months later I am sitting in Ohta-san's office. Basically I told him in my limited Japanese that I was styudying hard for 6 months and I was learning Japanese as best I could.

"Dan-san. I think your teachah is a raidy."

"Really. You are right. I have 2 teachers and they are both ladies. How did you know"

"Because you talk rike a raidy!" bwaaaaahahahahahaaa.

And all his guys were bwahaha-ing too...

You can bet I chewed out my Japanse teachers. They were mortified.

"Hamada-san. You are making me sound like a gay man. I want to learn man Japanese, right now!"

"No-no-noooo Dan-san. First you must learn polite Japanese."

"No way, Hamada-san! man Japanese starting today" - LOL

What a hoot.
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