While most airports have an english translation everywhere, once you leave the airport it is a different story. It is sad to say this but: English is not enough.
If you travel Africa, you must know that even though some countries speak english, many of them do not. Unless you only travel to english speaking countries, you will notice people do not really speak much english.
If you only speak english, you’re screwed. Sometimes, even in speaking english countries, people have their own version of english too, like pidgin english in Nigeria or krio in Sierra Leone. It is similar to english but not exactly the same and unless you’re familiar with the language, you won’t understand much. It is hard to guess what they say.
HOW MANY LANGUAGES SHOULD YOU SPEAK?
In my opinion, it is extremely important to speak more than one language (four or five important languages are the best for real adventurers), and i mean languages that are spoken worldwide, not a dialect, because i know most africans speak more than one language.
I am talking about the main languages in the world. The languages most people speak or know even it is just basic.
WHAT LANGUAGES SHOULD YOU SPEAK?
These, in my honest opinion and from my experience, are the most important languages to speak:
If you speak all these languages, you are the king/queen of the world and everybody knows that. And if you add chinese, you become also the president of all countries in the world. That’s just how it works.
Of course, in Africa, chinese and russian may not be spoken by most people but these are useful outside Africa.
I think most travellers should try to speak at least 2 of the main languages. It is still not enough but it is better than one.
WHY DON’T THEY SPEAK ENGLISH?
It is important to remember that most africans you will meet while you travel have probably never travelled outside their country, they are born and live usually in the same place and have no plans of living or working abroad so there is no real reason for them to speak another language.
Why would a farmer in Ivory Coast be interested in learning english when he’s already an adult with a family and a job that allows him to survive and everybody else speaks french? He won’t speak english, YOU are the one who has to speak french. You are the one visiting, it is your problem. You must find a way to communicate.
Yes, you could use signs but signs can only get you so far.
Another option is using Google Translate, but it is really uncomfortable and sometimes the translation is not good enough. Google Translate is good for basic sentences, nothing deep. You cannot talk about philosophy or physics with it, which is a pity.
MY ADVICE AND EXPERIENCE
So, that’s my advice for you: learn languages. The more you learn, the better the experience.
I speak english and spanish fluently, intermediate french and basic german. I understand krio/pidgin english and yoruba. I also understand portuguese very well as it is similar to spanish. When i go to a portuguese speaking country and they do not speak any other language i speak, i speak spanish to them and they speak portuguese to me, and we understand 80% of what we’re saying. Isn’t it fantastic?
And i do pretty well in most countries with the languages i speak. Some countries are more difficult than others but in general, you will be fine. I just want to make clear that english is and will never be enough, try to speak at least 2 languages, 3 is great and 4 is boss.
That’s all for today, i hope this tip makes your travelling plans easier.
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